Seeing an uptick in your website visitor and email subscriber list can be exciting. But if there is an unexplained surge in your page views, it may be a sign of something dangerous.
Every day, bad bots swarm websites with the intent of scraping them for data that could be sold or reused illegally elsewhere. A Bad Bot report from Imperva states that 47.4% of all internet traffic came from bots in 2022, highlighting a 5.1% increase from 2021.
Therefore, unless they are managed, they could significantly harm your business and your brand reputation. At the same time, you want to make sure your bot management strategy does not block legitimate users or “good” bots (such as Googlebot).
What is CSPM? Can it help in spam traffic prevention?
CSPM or Cloud Security Posture Management is a set of tools that predominantly identifies and manages security risks associated with cloud misconfigurations. It also plays a critical yet indirect role in building a fortified web environment.
CSPM ensures all cloud-based tools and services — specifically the ones designed for preventing spam or malicious bots — are optimally configured, thereby enhancing a website’s defenses.
By integrating CSPM tools with Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), you can further ensure a comprehensive view of potential threats a website can potentially face, such as SQL injection attempts and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
You see, protecting a website against spam and bots requires a layered approach, which involves varied techniques and tools and not just CSPM. In this article, we will discuss actionable tips to manage bad bots smartly and keep the normal traffic flowing. But first, let us start with the basics.
What are the signs of bad bot activity?
A bot is basically an automated program that can perform simple tasks much faster than humans can. There are some clear signs of bot activity that businesses can look out for, including:
1. Sudden spikes in traffic
A sudden surge in pageviews could indicate an inflow of bots trying to scrape your data or launch a DDoS attack. If you also receive a high number of requests from a single IP or a group of IP addresses in a short span, that could be a bot activity.
2. High bounce rate
If a bot visits your website and does not find what it is looking for, it will leave right away, often within milliseconds. So too many site visits that bounce quickly could indicate that the visitors are not human. Hence, keep an eye on your website’s bounce rate.
3. Server performance trouble
Because bots tend to appear in large numbers, your website server may not be able to handle it, which could slow down the site experience for everyone. Therefore, if you see an unusual browsing pattern, it could be indicative of bot activity.
4. Frequent access to specific pages
Spam bots often target login or checkout pages to exploit vulnerabilities. They can also access multiple pages or submit forms much faster and in a greater volume than a human. If you notice such abnormal behavior on the site, that is because of the bots.
5. Abnormally high session durations
On the other hand, a site visit that lasts unusually long could also indicate bot activity, as humans do not usually spend more than a few minutes on each page.
Our tips for blocking bad bots from your website
While bots (and the brains behind them) are constantly evolving, there are proactive measures you can take to safeguard your website and prevent bots from arriving in the first place. Here is what we recommend:
1. Assess your bot challenges
Take a look at exactly what your website data is saying. Did you perhaps experience a surge in traffic with no apparent explanation (such as a sale)? Did any other issues develop in the wake of the surge, such as site glitches?
You will also want to identify exactly where the bots are coming from. For instance, you can check out your login attempt emails or web server access logs to see if there are any patterns in the IP addresses or in the frequency of logins. Either way, check for anomalies in your website.
2. Strengthen access points
a. Add CAPTCHA tools
This is a great way to ensure that only humans can interact with your email sign-up forms, purchase pages, and CTAs.
CAPTCHA makes the user perform a task to prove that they are a human, such as typing in the letters displayed or identifying the squares with traffic lights in a grid image.
Bots cannot pass these tests unless they have the solution for that specific challenge written into their code. That is why using images in the CAPTCHA offers some sort of distortion that makes it harder for bots to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
b. Use a “honeypot” CAPTCHA
This involves adding a small hidden text field or checkbox to your signup form that only a spam bot will fill in (it is invisible to regular users). The moment someone fills it up, you instantly know it is a bot and can block it. It is like a honey trap to lure in and weed out malicious bots.
c. Set up multi-step sign-up forms
Multi-step sign-up forms not only let you capture more data about your users through extra steps but also discourage spam bots or manual spammers from submitting fake information. An example of a multi-step form could be one with a CTA to sign up, and only when the user clicks it do they get to access the fields where they fill out their personal data.
d. Collaborate on security across platforms
Make sure you share your security and bot-blocking information with the other party wherever possible. APIs and mobile apps could potentially offer backdoor entry points for attackers, so you want to ensure that they are just as secure as the website itself.
3. Monitor your backend
a. Check your APIs
It is likely you have set up some integrations on your website to connect and share data with other sites, and these could potentially open up vulnerabilities.
Especially if your site has been around for a while, conduct a thorough check of your APIs, upgrade them to the latest versions, remove any obsolete ones, and ensure that the vendors you are working with have proper security measures.
b. Check subscription dates
In addition to updating your APIs, check if an unusual number of users have signed up for your emails within a short period of time (and without any special promotion or marketing campaign going on). If yes, then those could be bots. Use email marketing software that tracks opt-in dates so that you can evaluate sign-up patterns.
4. Update and patch regularly
a. Set up patches
If there is a specific bot that keeps causing problems on your website, such as posting spam comments, you can ask a professional to set up a patch that blocks that IP address from your website. Also, take this opportunity to perform vulnerability testing to determine the easiest entry points for attackers – 82% of businesses rely on the prioritization of vulnerabilities.
b. Block older browser versions
A good way to close off access to some bots (though not all) is to require website users to have newer browser versions before they can access your site. Most legitimate users will respond by updating their browsers, so the risk of losing genuine traffic is low here.
5. Filter suspicious traffic sources
a. Block known hosting providers
Doing so can help reduce the number of website bots accessing your site, especially if these bots are hosted on popular cloud platforms or shared hosting services. However, this approach might also inadvertently block legitimate traffic, especially from users leveraging VPNs or businesses using cloud providers for their infrastructure.
b. Block traffic from specific countries
If you are reasonably confident that a large number of spam bots are originating from certain countries, and that those countries have a low likelihood of giving you paying users, you could choose to block them entirely. It is a drastic solution, of course, but one that many of the popular websites use to avoid spam.
6. Invest in advanced measures like bot mitigation
As bot defenses evolve, so do attacker techniques, which means basic preventive measures may not be enough to ward off a sophisticated attack.
Guarding against them might be too difficult for your regular IT team, which is why we recommend working with spambot mitigation vendors.
They have the expertise and tools to give you full control over your traffic and weed out any malicious elements, even the sophisticated ones.
Over to you
While bad bots can pose a significant problem, there is no need to worry too much. There are plenty of ways to ensure that their impact on your website is minimized. Be sure to keep your site code and firewalls up to date and install protections against suspicious servers or IPs.
And of course, regularly conduct website health checkups with a security expert, and consider working with a bot mitigation vendor if you want that extra safeguard. Good luck!