A botnet attack is a specific type of attack in which a malicious hacker gains control of a series of computers. The attacker then targets these computers to launch large-scale cyberattacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
This results in damage to the hijacked computers and the targets of the attacks, including massive financial loss (Balaban, 2021). Fortunately, ethical hacking and penetration testing can be used to stop botnets in their tracks.
2000: Start with EarthLink Spammer
EarthLink Spammer was one of the first botnet attacks. The attackers engaged in phishing, a cornerstone of botnet attacks, sending emails purporting to come from known websites.
These phishing attacks tricked users into handing over sensitive information, including usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers, allowing EarthLink Spammer to obtain even more information. Its creator, Kahn K. Smith, was captured and sentenced against him for USD 3 million (White Ops, 2021).
2007: The Threat Explodes
2007 was a turning point in botnet attacks. The year saw an explosion of botnet attacks, resulting in the deployment of additional cybersecurity resources and a variety of countermeasures, such as penetration testing methodologies.
- court specifically targeted Windows systems, using them to deliver the Pushdo Trojan, which turned computers into spam bots. At its peak, Cutwail was sending 74 billion emails per day. The bot was active for years and was even rented by other malicious actors who wanted access to sensitive personal information that Cutwail could access (Uberoi, 2021).
- Storm it was one of the largest botnets in the world, if not the largest. She used mutating code attacks to capture targets’ computers for further attacks, sometimes using her bots to launch DDoS attacks (Garretson, 2007).
- Zeus gained access to users’ banking information. At one point, Zeus was responsible for 90% of all online banking-related fraud and cost its targets over $120 million (Dark Reading, 2021). Like many botnet attacks, Zeus has evolved since its first release and remains active today.
2008: The Threat Evolves
Despite the rise in countermeasures, 2008 saw more successful botnet attacks that evolved in both virulence and prevalence.
- kraken it was a spyware bot that gained access to hundreds of thousands of computers, including at least 50 of the world’s 500 largest companies. At its peak, each bot was sending up to 500,000 spam emails per day, making it the largest in the world at the time (Balaban, 2021).
- butterfly was involved in personal information theft and DDoS attacks. Although it ultimately captured more than 12 million IP addresses and infected more than a million computers, Mariposa was destroyed in December 2009 and is no longer active (“Mariposa botnet”, 2021).
2016–2018: Adware and smart devices
As the technology expanded, so did the malware efforts. Certain precautions, such as penetration tests, stopped significant infections. However, less secure systems were still damaged by these attacks.
- Methbot was the name for botnet attacks that turned computers into ad viewers, thereby generating revenue for the bot creator. The creators of Methbot are believed to reside in Russia, and the network remains active today, potentially generating up to $5 million per day (Green Arrow, 2021).
- Mirai was one of the first spambots to target Internet of Things devices. It was used in click fraud, an illegal technique to manipulate cost-per-click advertising. This botnet is still dangerous today as it is still mutating (Cloudflare, 2021).
- 3ve gave rise to three different but interconnected ad fraud operations. Multiple tech companies coordinated to shut down 3ve’s operations, but not before it infected around 1.7 million computers and many servers (Uberoi, 2021).
Fight botnet attacks with ethical hacking
Botnets can present a major challenge to the security of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Companies must prepare for these attacks, and people in the cybersecurity world must learn a variety of penetration testing methodologies to test networks and defend against potential intrusions.
These botnet attacks were devastating to their targets, affecting millions of people and costing companies billions of dollars. Fortunately, there are opportunities to join the fight and stop cyber attacks. You can gain the skills to help organizations protect their networks by becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH).
The C|EH, an industry-recognized credential from the EC-Council, is earned after completing a robust course that covers the tools and testing methodologies needed to identify, exploit, and ultimately fix vulnerabilities. If you are interested in using ethical hacking methods to combat cyber threats such as botnet attacks, learn more about C|EH today.