What Is A Botnet and Why Do Hackers Use Them?

What Is A Botnet and Why Do Hackers Use Them?


Have you ever seen one of those sci-fi movies where a hacker manages to hack into a major bank website or a government agency to steal vital information they need for their nefarious mission?

Although Hollywood often makes hacking seem as easy as 1-2-3, the process of hacking into major websites, platforms, and highly secured servers is far from easy. In fact, it often takes weeks or months of planning combined with targeted execution to pull off something as grandiose as that.

Simply put, these major hacks aren’t being performed by just one guy with a laptop. Even if they’re being orchestrated by one guy with a laptop, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.

To get the type of computing power and competitive advantage they need to perform major hacks, skilled hackers often use “botnets” that allow them to take advantage of multiple devices to help execute their attacks. This makes the perpetrator harder to find and increases the hacker’s computing power.

If you’ve ever wondered what a botnet is and why hackers use them, then you’re in the perfect place. In today’s post, we’re going to give you a detailed breakdown of how botnets work, explain how your computer could be part of a botnet, and how to prevent your device from being initiated into an evil botnet without your knowledge. Get ready to take some notes!

What Exactly Is A Botnet?

A botnet is a network of “robots,” that is made up of compromised computers. The compromised computers are embedded with a virus that allows a hacker to log in and take control of them at any given time and utilize them for nefarious means.

It’s kind of like mind control… One minute, your computer is a normal home computer that you use to type documents and print out recipes; the next minute, a hacker takes control of your computer and starts using it to hack into a major bank’s website. Crazy, right?

A botnet may consist of four or five computers or it could involve hundreds of computers positioned around the globe. It all depends on how ingenious the hacker is, the size of the project, and how dedicated they are to achieving their goal.

What Are Botnets Used For?

Botnets are used in situations where one computer isn’t enough. Today, the internet is far more secure than it used to be. Thanks to VPN servers, AES military-grade encryption, two-factor authentication, and high-tech anti-malware programs, hacking is a lot harder than it was twenty years ago.

One computer running one piece of hacking software won’t get far if the hacker is trying to target a major corporation or another highly-secured target. This means that hackers often need to take advantage of the computing power of multiple devices. By using a botnet, the hacker can run the same penetration software on numerous devices at the same time, each of them serving as a “bot” controlled remotely by the hacker.

Botnets also provide an added benefit for the hacker: enhanced security and anonymity.

Although hackers may be using a VPN like ProtonVPN to mask their tracks, top VPNs can sometimes be traced back by government agencies with a warrant for a major federal crime. For this reason, hackers typically create or use their own black market VPNs while performing their hack. When the hack is complete, they destroy the VPN server and any other evidence that could lead back to them.

However, by using a botnet, the hacker becomes far harder to track. This is because anybody seeking to track the hacker will first have to sift through all of the bots in the botnet. Even if they are able to identify all of the bots involved in the attack, it’s almost impossible to trace each bot back to the point where it became infected with malware that led to it becoming a bot.

By the time law enforcement agencies manage to track down all of the bots involved in a botnet attack, the hacker will usually have erased all evidence and will be long gone.

As you can see, botnets can be very powerful when they’re in the hands of the wrong people. Here are some of the most common types of hacks that are performed using a botnet.

1. Brute Force Attacks: Brute force attacks are hacks that use software to guess login credentials and passwords. Even the best brute force hacking program may only be able to guess 100 different password combinations per minute. If millions of guesses are required to crack a password, a single computer could take months.

However, by using a botnet, the hacker can control the command consoles of numerous computers and devices, exponentially increasing the likelihood of them cracking the password in a shorter amount of time.

2. DDoS Attacks: DDoS attacks are denial of service attacks designed to cause entire sites and servers to shut down. They’re executed by hackers who attempt to overload web servers by flooding them with more traffic, requests, and queries than the servers were designed to handle.

Once overloaded, the server shuts down and requires a significant amount of time to reboot. During this time, a major business could lose tens of thousands of dollars in sales, have their reputation damaged, and cause their customers to lose faith in their security.

DDoS attacks are only possible with botnets, as no single computer is strong enough to overload a major secured server. However, if the hacker is able to control hundreds or thousands of computers at once and use them to orchestrate a major hack, a DDoS attack is a lot easier.

3. Phishing Emails: Every day, billions of phishing emails are sent out across the world to various internet users. Don’t believe us? Just open your email and check the SPAM folder. The chances are that you have hundreds or even thousands of phishing emails sitting in the folder right now.

These phishing emails often contain links to sites that will download viruses and tracking software onto your device. In fact, this is also one of the major ways that your computer can become a bot, in the first place!

These phishing emails are often sent out in huge batches. Given their illegal nature, it wouldn’t make sense for perpetrators of malware to use their personal computers to send out the infected emails; otherwise, they’d be too easy to track.

Instead, they use large botnets to SPAM any email address they have with malware-laden messages.

Botnet Models

There are two primary models that hackers use to create their botnets and orchestrate attacks:

  • Client-Server Model.
  • Peer-to-Peer Model.

Here’s a brief explanation of the two, so you know what to expect.

1) Client-Server Botnet Model

Client-Server Botnet Model
The most common type of botnets are those that follow a client-server model. In this model, the hacker connects all of their infected bot devices to one or two main servers that act as a control center for the robot army. The hacker can remotely access the servers and use them to execute all commands within the botnet army.

Client-server botnets are a lot easier for the hacker to organize and control. However, they’re also easier to detect and shut down, cutting off the entire botnet attack.

2) Peer-to-Peer Botnet Model

Peer-to-Peer Botnet Model
Peer-to-peer botnets are incredibly dangerous due to their decentralized nature. Unlike client-server botnets that rely on a main server to send them instructions, each bot in the network can issues commands to other bots in the network.

The hacker can bounce around from one bot to another, remotely accessing the command console and orchestrating their attack. Even if one or multiple bots in the network are detected and shut down, the other bots in the network will remain unaffected and continue taking commands from the anonymous hacker.

These types of attacks are often orchestrated through torrent files. This is one reason why it’s important to use a VPN while torrenting to protect your internet traffic and prevent your device from being turned into a robot!

How To Prevent Your Device From Being “Drafted” Into a Botnet Army

As we mentioned, hackers are capable of turning almost any device into one of their bots if they’re able to implant malware on your computer. So, that being said, here’s how to prevent your computer from being “drafted” into an evil robot army.

1. Use A VPN Server To Encrypt Your Online Data: Whenever you’re online (and especially when you’re on public/unsecured wi-fi networks) make sure you’re using a VPN like IPVanish to mask your online identity and activities. This will make sure that your computer isn’t a “target recruit” by a hacker, to begin with.

2. Use Your Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Software Regularly: A good anti-virus and anti-malware program will be able to scan files and downloads to ensure that a bot virus isn’t downloaded on your device. Without embedding the malware into your device first, the hacker won’t have a chance of controlling your device.

3. Don’t Click Suspicious Links or Ads: One of the most common ways that malware gets embedded in your devices is through phishing links. These are scammy links that are either emailed to you or sent via SMS to your phone or tablet. Once clicked, they can automatically download malware in the background without you realizing it!

In Conclusion

Botnets are a fascinating and dangerous topic in the world of cybersecurity and hacking. They’ve been used to orchestrate some of history’s greatest hacks and are still being used today. The best way to prevent these attacks is for computer users to stay on top of their online safety and anonymity so their devices aren’t taken advantage of for nefarious reasons.