What is a Botnet Attack? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 What Is a Botnet?
  • 0:55 Key Considerations
  • 2:19 Use of Botnets
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we'll be examining botnet attacks. We'll learn the definition of a botnet, the activities entailed in establishing a botnet, and the various related malicious attacks a botnet can be used for.

What Is a Botnet?

Botnet is a word coined from the words robot and network. Basically, a botnet is a network of remotely controlled computers called bots. These computers could be home, office or public systems. They are computers connected to the internet, dispersed geographically and infected with malicious code called malware. This malware allows these computers to be commanded and controlled remotely by an operator. These operators are commonly known as bot herders, and their herds, the computers, are known as zombies. The zombies are controlled through a server called a command and control server. From this server, the computers are used to perform various tasks like stealing information or being used as a pivot to launch attacks on other potential computers.

Key Considerations

Let's now look at some key considerations when it comes to botnets:

Scope

When created, botnets can span distances and wide geographical locations. This means that a network of zombies and their controllers could comprise systems located in different networks and different countries. This makes botnets an international problem, creating the need for an international collaborative effort in their detection, elimination, and litigation.

Impact

A successful attack by one hacker or node can cause serious problems to any system or application, but the impact of an army of bots can be described as a cyber apocalypse. On such a scale, whether the attacks are financially or politically motivated, the impact of their success can be astounding. Let's look at a financially motivated attack, which is very typical of hackers. In this example, a malicious code is propagated to thousands of compromised users of a banking application. The financial transactions of the user's account are intercepted, and the destination account is changed. The financial loss can be huge.

Let's put this in perspective. According to Forbes.com, there was a worldwide loss of $158 billion to cyber-crime in 2016. This surpasses the GDP of many countries in 2016. Botnets on this scale are a sheer nightmare!

Uses of Botnets

Hackers who build botnets have many different objectives in mind. These may include commercializing resources, coordinating distributed attacks, spamming, and malware distribution. Let's talk about each one in turn:

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