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Website scraping, or just web scraping, is by itself not an illegal act or a crime and, in fact, can be beneficial in certain situations.
Yet, bad actors can also use web scraping to perform various attacks on businesses and individuals, which can cause various negative impacts from financial losses, long-term reputational damages, and even legal repercussions.
For instance, cybercriminals can use web scraper bots to copy your content and publish it on another website while impersonating your business in an attempt to steal traffic and trick your website visitors into visiting this fake website instead.
This is why protecting your business from malicious web scraping is very important, and yet it can be easier said than done if you don’t really know where to start.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about malicious web scraping and how you can protect your business from such attacks. By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
Without further ado, let us begin this guide with the basics: what is web scraping?
Web scraping, in a nutshell, is the process of extracting (scraping) data (in any form, be it text content, images, videos, codes, etc.) from a website.
Web scraping can be done manually. In the most basic form, right-clicking on a photo on a website, clicking “save image as…,” and then saving the photo file to your computer is an act of web scraping.
However, web scraping can also be done automatically with the help of programs and bots, and when discussing cybersecurity, typically, the term “web scraping” refers to the automated scraping of websites with the help of web scraping bots.
A web scraping bot is essentially a computer program that is designed to collect data on a website. In practice, websites come in many different shapes and forms, so there are also various different types of scraper bots with varying features and functionality.
In fact, many sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals built and run their own web scraper bots to ensure they can scrape data from a specific website as optimally as possible while ensuring it is not detected by cybersecurity measures and especially anti-bot solutions.
While there are various types of web scraping bots available in the market today, typically, they work while following these steps:
In practice, however, different types of web scrapers may use different techniques when extracting different forms of data from a website, for example:
Is right-clicking and saving a picture from a website illegal? Of course, the answer is no, and from this example, we know that web scraping on its own is perfectly legal.
However, web scraping can become illegal in several scenarios, including but not limited to:
In short, when conducted without malicious intent, website scraping can be considered legal.
Bad actors may use web scraping bots with malicious intent, including but not limited to:
Excessive activities of web scraping bots on your website may also slow down your website’s performance and negatively affect user experience, and may also distort your website’s analytics data (bounce rate, page views, user demographics data, etc. )
These are just a few reasons why you should protect your website from malicious and excessive web scraping as soon as possible, which we will discuss in the next section.
With the state of the digital environment and cybercrime in recent years, unfortunately, 100% prevention of malicious web scraping from targeting your website is virtually impossible.
Yet, we can still be proactive to make it as difficult as possible for bad actors to perform web scraping on our website by strengthening three key aspects:
Below, we’ll discuss them one by one.
A key objective when aiming to prevent web scraping is to make it as challenging as possible for the web scraper bot to access and extract your data, letting the bot waste its resources and discourage the perpetrator from targeting your site. Here are some tips you can use:
The second foundation to preventing web scraping attacks from affecting your business is to monitor and mitigate activities from malicious web scraper bots.
You can either check your traffic logs manually (i.e., via Google Analytics) and try to identify signs of malicious bot activities, including:
Alternatively, you can invest in advanced bot detection and mitigation solution that will automatically detect the presence of web scraper bots in real-time and on autopilot (won’t need human supervision and intervention.)
Once you’ve identified the presence of web scraper bots, there are several options you can try to mitigate their activities:
The third foundation is to monitor the internet for the existence of your scraped content being published on another URL, then you can take the necessary actions to report and take down this content.
A more effective approach both in terms of accuracy and cost-efficiency is to use a dedicated website scraping and Copyright Infringement Monitoring solution like Red Points’.
Red Points leverages state-of-the-art technology to conduct real-time domain research and monitoring, so it will automatically detect any malicious web scraping attempt, notify you and automatically take the necessary steps to take down the fake website so you can use your time to focus on your core business tasks instead.
When needed, Red Points’ Investigation Services can also collect data that might be used as evidence if you are taking legal action against the individuals or organizations performing the malicious website scraping attempt.
While web scraping on its own is not an illegal practice and may benefit your business when done correctly, cybercriminals can use web scraping with malicious intent, which may cause negative impacts on your business’s reputation and finances.
In this guide, we’ve shared all you need to know about how to protect your business from malicious web scraping. However, without a clear strategy, 100% prevention of these attacks can be very challenging, if not downright impossible.
Proactive prevention and protection of your brand by implementing real-time anti-web scraping protection like Red Points’ Impersonation Removal solution remains the best bet to protect your IPs, online content, and brand as a whole.