When we talk about bots in the general sense, we are typically referring to Internet bots that systematically browse the web for the purpose of web indexing. Web indexing is responsible for making sure that your website and its pages appear on the SERPs.
As marketers know, when you successfully index a web page, it results in more traffic to your site and allows newly added pages to be discovered more quickly.
Unfortunately, not all bots are good. While “good” bots can help with automated tasks like web indexing, “bad” bots are used by criminal hackers who want to steal sensitive information and make gains from your website.
Malicious bots can gather passwords, obtain financial information, relay spam, launch cyberattacks, and much more.
In this blog post, I’ll share how bots affect your business and what you can do to protect your company website from these bad bots.
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4 Ways Malicious Bots Negatively Impact Your Business
1) Bots Can Affect Your Website Speed
When you suddenly see a spike in your website traffic through one of your analytics platforms, more often than not, the traffic likely originated from bots.
Even if you’ve applied filters to your web analytics reports, bots are nevertheless entering your website. This can potentially be a problem if bots are continuously requesting information from your site. Ultimately, this inflow of traffic will slow down the page load speed when new users come to the site.
If you’re an e-commerce site (or really any type of online business), you run the risk of losing users, leads or potential customers if they quickly bounce from your site.
For online businesses, customers have higher engagement with web sites that load faster, and when page load speed is too slow if affects brand loyalty:
- 79% of people wouldn’t return to a site that had previously performed poorly for them.
- For 52% of people, a short load time actually impacts on their site loyalty.
- A further 44% would advise their friends against sites on which they’d had a negative user experience.
Even a one-second delay in page load speed decreases customer satisfaction and thus conversion rates by 20%:
This is why website load speed is important for online brands. If bots flood your website with lots of traffic, it will not only slow down your site but will also affect the visitor’s overall experience.
2) Bots Can Steal Sensitive Customer Information
Customers trust your company when they fill out a form or otherwise provide you with any personal information on your site. However, malicious bots that scrape websites may end up stealing any data that users put into forms and comments, including email addresses.
Two types of scraping include web or content scraping (“in which software automatically downloads webpages or resources, parses their coded information, and delivers it to companies for usage”) and contact scraping (email and contact info).
Web scraping is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, it can serve as a powerful tool for businesses to stay ahead of their competitors. For example, businesses can use content scraping for market researching or competitor pricing monitoring.
On the other hand, bad actors can use content scraping bots to repurpose content — for example, republishing others’ content on their sites, to skew with a website’s SEO.
Contact bots scan websites and download phone numbers and email addresses. Criminal hackers can then use the collected email addresses to send out spam and or launch phishing campaigns.
3) Bots Can Affect Website Security
A botnet is a combination of “robot” and “network.” In other words, it is a network of “robots” designed to infect millions of devices, typically by unauthorized hackers to commit cybercrimes. All they need to do is find infected online devices or “bots” to build a botnet. The more bots that are connected, the bigger the botnet, and thus the bigger the impact.
Cybercriminals use botnets to disrupt or overload a website by commanding their “infected bot army” to the point that the site cannot function properly This kind of attack is called a denial of service or a DDoS attack.
Once your website gets knocked offline, it becomes inoperable for your intended website visitors.
4) Bots Can Lead to Loss of Brand Reputation
And it’s not just a day’s worth of sales that could lose. Bots can lead to e-commerce business owners losing their brand reputation, customers and revenue.
If bots are successful in extracting email addresses and sending unwanted emails containing malicious links, cyber criminals can steal sensitive data such as your customers’ bank information. Bad actors can also create fake accounts to write false content and fake product reviews that affect your brand reputation. These types of activities can frustrate your customers and drive them away.
Once a website has suffered from a cyberattack, it’s often hard to recover completely, particularly if you’re a small or medium business. In a recent study:
- 39% of companies reported a decrease in operational capability due to complaints as an aftermath of cyberattack
- 37% of businesses said that the downtime aftermath came in second
- 44% estimated that they could lose over $10,000 within just an hour of downtime
Another study has shown that almost one third of customers will stop doing business with a company that has experienced a data breach – and 70% claimed that they would not trust such a company anymore.
What You Can Do About Bad Bots
Whether it’s your entire brand reputation at stake or a temporarily inaccessible website, bots can affect your overall business. However, it is only bad bots you need to be wary of, not good bots that actually help your website’s health. Below are concrete steps you can take to eliminate the adverse effects of bad bots entering your site.
1) Require CAPTCHA
One way to separate bad bots from good bots is by using a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart), which comes in different forms.
It typically works by having users check a box to prove that they are not a robot (which can’t check boxes):
Or have them decipher distorted text, which bots cannot read:
Keep in mind, though, that with every new generation of CAPTCHA comes a new generation of bots that get wiser as algorithms get more sophisticated. But it doesn’t mean that it is useless to use a CAPTCHA because it still represents a significant barrier for most primitive bots.
CAPTCHA’s main function is to help prevent bots from filling out form submissions, executing logins and accessing sensitive information.
2) Consider Using a CDN Service
As per Akamai:
“A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a highly-distributed platform of servers that helps minimize delays in loading web page content by reducing the physical distance between the server and the user. This helps users around the world view the same high-quality content without slow loading times.”
Even without knowing it, anyone who loads a web page on the Internet is likely using a CDN. If a web page does not have a one, the origin server of the content will have to respond to every single request from every end user, which would cause a huge delay.
Any website that is likely to have more than one user request at a time can benefit from a CDN. That includes about every business, organization and or individual who owns and operates a website.
A CDN is important because it loads web pages faster, minimizes the risk of traffic spikes, ensures website stability, offers better site performance and improves users’ experience in terms of speed. As mentioned, users with good experience with a website are likely to come back.
Your website can perform well without a CDN, but it would probably be faster with one.
3) Add HTTPS to Your Site
One of the first steps in securing your site is adding HTTPS to your site. While doing so won’t prevent bots from entering your site directly, it will create an encrypted channel between your website visitors and your site.
As per Joydeep Bhattacharya:
“HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The problem with the regular HTTP protocol is that the information that flows from server to browser is not encrypted, which means it can be easily stolen. HTTPS protocols remedy this by using an SSL certificate, which helps create a secure encrypted connection between the server and the browser, thereby protecting potentially sensitive information from being stolen as its transferred between the server and the browser”:
It also protects from any eavesdroppers and prevents “man-in-the-middle” attacks, which “allow attackers to secretly intercept communications or alter them.”
You should also install an SSL Certificate (Secure Sockets Layer), “a global standard security technology that enables encrypted communication between a web browser and a web server.” You can use an SSL checker tool to verify the status of your website security.
For a detailed guide on how to install an SSL Certificate, read this article.
4) Put Website Security First
Businesses should invest in website security to protect their users’ information from bad bots, especially if you’re an e-commerce website that takes online payments.
Customers that save their bank information online might not be aware that bad bots are after them. That is why business owners must make sure that transactions on their website are secure for customers.
Unfortunately, bad bots are growing in sophistication and can mimic human behavior, which can bypass traditional security tools. It’s also no longer practical to stop bad bots by simply blocking all traffic from a country known for launching cyberattacks.
Instead, implement a website security solution that actively monitors traffic entering your site and that can accurately distinguish between good bots and bad bots.
Imperva, a cybersecurity company, suggests these website security options (depending on your particular business; click the link to learn more):
- DDoS Mitigation
- APT Protection
- Web Application Firewall
- Insider Threat Prevention
- Bot Management
- Access Management and IP Blocking
- Account Takeover Protection
- API Security
Final Thoughts on Bad Bots
Good bots can help online business owners in several ways, but bad bots can do a lot of very expensive damage to businesses.
If business owners do not take care of bad bots that come to their website, they can lose customers, revenue and brand reputation in a short time span. That is a big loss for companies that rely solely on their online business.
Bad bots can be mitigated by tricks like CAPTCHA, but often that’s not enough. One of the best ways to ensure that bad bots are not accessing your site is to have the right web security. Because all online businesses are operated via the Internet, they require adequate protection against cyberattacks like DDoS.