Bot management is the discipline or the practice of identifying the existence of bot traffic, analyzing the activity of different bots on your network to understand their intent and manage each individual bot accordingly.
Bot management is essential because even after we’ve identified that a request 100% comes from a bot, fully blocking it might not always be the best practice due to two main challenges:
- There are good bots: not all bots on the internet are inherently bad. There are good bots owned by reputable companies like Google or Facebook that are going to be beneficial for your website. You don’t want to accidentally block these good bots.
- They are going to be back, stronger: when you block a bot owned by a persistent attacker, they’ll simply modify the bot and attack your site with a bot that’s even harder to detect and manage. In fact, if you send an error message while blocking the bot, the attacker can instead use the information to modify their bot.
It’s also worth noting that today’s bots are getting better and better at impersonating human behaviors. Sophisticated bots can use AI and machine-learning technologies to analyze human behaviors and perform things like nonlinear mouse movements, randomized clicking patterns, and so on.
Without a proper bot management practice, we won’t be able to effectively differentiate between these bots and legitimate human users.
To summarize, a proper bot management practice consists of:
- Effective detection of bot traffic
- Identifying the bot traffic’s intent, whether it’s good or malicious
- Mitigate and control hostile bot traffic
Bot management is necessary to prevent the malicious bots’ impact on your site’s performance and data security. When malicious bots can access our resources for free, they can overwhelm your servers and cause legitimate users to be denied (a Denial of Service/DoS attack). Some malicious bots can also steal your content, inject malware, spam content, and cause other malevolent things, as we will discuss below.
How Malicious Bots Can Impact Your Business
With various different attack vectors that can be performed with the help of malicious bots, the negative impact on your site and business will also vary. However, here are some important negative impacts to consider:
- Hinder your SEO performance: content scraping bots can copy your content and publish it somewhere else, which will create duplicate content issues, and might cause your site to be penalized.
- Skew your analytics: bots might slow down your site’s performance, and attackers can also launch DDoS attacks to completely shut down your site’s service. This might skew your metrics, and may lead to poor business decisions in the future, as well as increasing/decreasing your advertising costs, among other issues.
- Damages your reputation: bots might spam your website visitors or even infect your user’s devices with malware. They may also write fake product reviews, send emails containing fraudulent links, and so on. These types of activities can easily frustrate customers and ruin your reputation, and you can lose your customers permanently
- Ruin advertising costs and ROI: bots, for example, can commit click fraud by clicking on banner ads. This will skew data reported to advertisers and may cost you a lot more in advertising. If you are the one advertising your product, this can also ruin your ad’s ROI since you are essentially paying for clicks, not from legitimate users.
- Loss of money: ultimately, malicious bots can negatively impact the bottom line of your business and hurt your business’s financial performance.
How Does a Bot Manager Work?
Bot management is typically implemented by using bot manager software to detect, differentiate, and manage bot traffic.
A bot manager can achieve this with various different methods and techniques, but generally, we can categorize them into three main approaches:
- Signature/Fingerprinting-Based: in this approach, the bot management solution compares the signatures detected on a traffic source with a known ‘fingerprint’ like OS type, browser version/type, devices used, IP address, etc.
- Challenge-Based: we use tests like CAPTCHA to challenge the ‘user’. If it’s a legitimate human user, the challenge should be fairly easy to solve, but an automated program/bot will find it difficult if not impossible to solve the challenge.
- Behavioral-Based: in this approach, the bot management solution analyzes the behavior of the traffic in real-time, for example, analyzing the mouse movements/clicks made by the user, whether the user makes any pattern resembling bot activities, etc.
How a Bot Manager Can Help Control Bot Traffic
Due to the sophistication of today’s shopping bots, a bot management solution that is capable of behavioral-based detection is recommended. DataDome is an advanced bot management solution that uses AI and machine learning technologies to detect and manage bot traffic in real-time. Running on autopilot, DataDome will only notify you when there’s any malicious bot activity but you don’t have to do anything to protect your system.
In general, there are three main advantages to having a proper bot manager solution:
- Real-time detection of bot traffic
A functional bot manager can recognize different classifications of good bots, characterize marks and fingerprints of acceptable bots, and analyze the bot’s activities via behavioral-based detection. The bot manager will accurately make a real-time assessment of the bot’s intention and act accordingly.
- Maintaining your website performance
Even good bots aren’t going to be always beneficial on all websites. If, for example, you are not serving the Chinese market, then you won’t get any benefit from Baidu’s bots crawling your site. A proper bot manager can help you manage good bot traffic according to how busy your website currently is and other indicators.
We can also slow down certain bot traffic during peak hours even if it’s a good bot. The bot manager can then redirect or reduce bot traffic during these hours to ensure peak website performance.
- Managing malicious bot activities
The right bot management solution can use various methods like slowing down/throttling the rate at which the bot can receive information or feeding it with fake information (honeytrap) to control its activities.
As we see, bot management isn’t simply about blocking all incoming traffic from bots, but it has to effectively differentiate bad bots from good bots while also preventing false positives in accidentally blocking legitimate users. The bot manager solution must also take the right approach in different situations, like serving alternative content to rate-limiting, among other approaches.
Investing in a proper bot manager software such as DataDome remains the best approach to protect your site from malware, botnet attacks, and other cybersecurity threats.