ZD Tech: Botnet, the cybercriminal’s Swiss Army knife

Hello everyone and welcome to ZD Tech, ‘s daily editorial podcast. My name is Louis Adam and today I will explain what botnets are and how these tools have become central to cybercriminals’ arsenal.

First of all, what is a botnet?

In a pictorial way, botnets are often described as a network of zombie computers. That is, a network of computers infected with the same malware and controlled by one person. This allows the cybercriminal in charge of the botnet to use the compromised devices for generally illegal purposes. This control is carried out through a command and control server with which all infected machines communicate.

A word of clarification though: botnets aren’t just about personal desktops, but potentially anything that has computing power. So servers, computers, routers, smartphones, or connected objects like security cameras. Everything is fine, as long as it can be easily infected!

And some botnets sometimes have tens or even hundreds of thousands of infected devices.

What are botnets used for?

But aside from the somewhat vicious pleasure of being the head of an army of zombie computers, what exactly are botnets used for? Well … pretty much whatever you want. The best thing about the botnet is the many opportunities it offers to cybercriminals.

For example, we have seen botnets used in distributed denial of service attacks – infected machines are used to send malicious traffic to a target in order to overload your network capacity. This was particularly the case with the Mirai botnet, which infected poorly secured routers.

But we can also use botnets to mine cryptocurrencies: if a cryptocurrency miner on a single machine is unlikely to be profitable, the situation is different when you can implement it on 60,000 machines.

Multitasking botnets

Especially if you don’t pay for the electricity! This was the main activity of the Retadup botnet, dismantled by the French gendarmerie in 2019.

Botnets can also be used to distribute emails, spam or phishing, or even messages that contain malicious attachments. The Emotet botnet is one of those and, prior to its decommissioning in February 2021, it was one of the largest botnets in the world.

Finally, botnets also represent a significant financial gain for cybercriminals. In fact, it is common for operators to monetize their botnet services to other cybercriminal groups. This can range from simply reselling stolen machine IDs, hosting files, to selling access to compromised computers. Prices vary by service, but for a cybercriminal, having a large botnet is a good way to secure a source of income.

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