Cybercrime can take many forms, and the criminals behind such attacks work with increasing sophistication — even to the point that some companies may, unwittingly, be helping criminals launch attacks against other organizations.

For example, botnets are an organized network of infected devices at a hacker’s disposal, which the hacker then uses to carry out cybercrime schemes by harnessing resources available to the bots on the system.

Of the 4.66 billion devices connected to the internet, any one of them can be infected by exploiting zero-day attacks or other unknown vulnerabilities. But how can we know if our computers (or other internet-enabled devices) are already infected and being used as part of a botnet attack?

The Difference Between a DDoS Attack and a DDoS BotNet

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are advanced cyberattacks derived from denial of service (DoS) attacks. They’re designed to knock web or app services offline. Unlike a DoS attack, where a single device is responsible for flooding a server with request packets, DDoS attacks consist of a coordinated group of devices targeting the same network.

DDoS attacks can be directed at the application layer by employing HTTP floods, zero-day assaults, or vulnerability targeting. Alternatively, they can penetrate the network layer through SYN Floods, DNS amplification, IP fragmentation, or other volumetric attacks.

A coordinated group of cybercriminals can carry out this kind of threat. Typically, however, they use botnets to coordinate these attacks from the hands of a single botmaster, with great power and an exponential replication capacity.

Servers can withstand a considerable load before failing, so setting up a DDoS attack can be a complicated task for cybercriminals — but not impossible. This is why DDoS attacks are so closely associated with botnets, yet they are not synonymous. Botnets can also perform other malicious activities, such as crypto-mining, brute force attacks, and large-scale phishing schemes.

The largest DDoS attack took place in 2017 against Google services, with an estimated 2540 Gbps flood of traffic, across 180,000 web servers. Even internet service providers (ISPs) worldwide have fallen victim to the disruptive power of DDoS botnet attacks. The Mirai botnet malware variant affected nearly 1 million routers in Great Britain alone due to a vulnerability in its firmware.

What Are the Signs of a DDoS BotNet Attack?

DDoS attacks and botnet recruitment attacks can be quite challenging to identify in time, since many seek to remain hidden until the time of the attack. Even so, some common signs apply to both DDoS botnet attacks and botnet recruitment and can trigger you to take action before it’s too late.

  • Slow Servers or Computers

    As a result of wear and tear, systems become progressively less efficient, and it’s normal to see a drop in the speed and performance of computers or servers. Still, when this slowdown is sudden and drastic, it’s a sign that something bad is happening.

    If a network is the victim of a DDoS attack, you will notice a radical decrease in server speed, to the point of being almost inaccessible due to the volume of malicious requests. Likewise, a computer infected with a malware botnet will experience diminished performance as the bot herder allocates your resources for its malicious activities.

  • Excessive Network Traffic

    Excessive network traffic may signal that your company is being targeted by botnet recruitment or a DDoS attack. For example, abnormal traffic leaving your network or equipment is an indicator that it is being used as part of a botnet. Meanwhile, excessive inbound traffic to servers is a clear sign of the start of a DDoS attack.

Although both cyber threats are related and have shared characteristics, DDoS and botnet attacks also each have some unique signals.

The following symptoms can identify DDoS attacks:

  • Unresponsive Web-Service or Network

    The main objective of a DDoS is to bring down the targeted systems. Attacks can have endless motives, but they all seek to generate the same effect on their victims, so an unresponsive system is a top indicator that you are a victim of a DDoS attack. At that point, you can only mitigate the cyberattack harm to the best of your abilities.

  • Increased Number of Emails

    Some DDoS attacks will seek to saturate your servers by various means in pursuit of a weak spot in your IT infrastructure. So it’s common to observe a considerable increase in the number of emails received during an attack attempt and can be an early warning for cybersecurity teams.

Alternatively, some signs of botnet recruitment can be:

  • Excessive Use of Idle Resources and Unusual Network Traffic

    Every system draws some resources for its minimum operation, even when suspended. Still, substantial use of resources during idle periods may mean that processes or applications are running in the background, indicating botnet malware’s existence.

    Likewise, when ports, interfaces, or protocols generate significant network traffic even when your organization is not using them, it may signify that a botmaster is exploiting your systems to perform malicious activities.

  • Unusual Activity on the Device

    If you notice applications that open and close on their own or cursors that crawl across the screen without an employee’s direct input, a malicious actor may have remote access to your device. Less visible indicators of botnet recruitment include the appearance of strange software or the execution of a program during daily activities.

Protect Your Data from Malware Attacks

Cyber threats have evolved with the advent of new technologies to exploit common vulnerabilities in a specific sector. Still, cybersecurity tools have also developed to meet these new challenges and to protect organizations from the latest threats.

DDoS protection services, such as Cloudflare, have become essential tools for today’s organizations, with an infrastructure designed to withstand a variety of DDoS botnet attacks.

Furthermore, multi-factor authentication tools provide a way to reinforce enterprise access controls, limit the harm of brute-force and phishing attacks, and secure your data from hackers.

Cybersecurity awareness training programs are also key to reducing the effectiveness of social engineering and phishing schemes that target organizations. Training strengthens the overall cybersecurity landscape of the enterprise and protects company stakeholders.

Ultimately, digital risk management tools (such as ZenGRC) facilitate the monitoring and identification of risks within the organization. ZenGRC is a governance, risk management, and compliance solution that provides a centralized platform for storing documents, tracking workflows, and reporting insights.

ZenGRC simplifies cybersecurity risk and compliance by providing a fully integrated single source of truth, allowing your business to map procedures and elements to multiple frameworks. Improved visibility helps you spot information security issues and enhance risk mitigation across your entire enterprise.

Request a free demo today to learn how ZenGRC can help your organization.