Scraping is an automated action of extracting data and files from a website or web application that is commonly done by bots or web crawlers.
Before anything else, it’s important to note that there are scraping activities that will actually benefit your website. Google’s bots, for example, are technically web scrapers, and they are essential in indexing your site, allowing your site to rank on Google’s SERP.
There are, however, bad scraper bots that perform malicious activities, making them as automated threats that can extract sensitive data, outputs from web applications, assessing navigable paths, read parameter values to find vulnerabilities on your website, and so on.
Here, we will discuss various ways of how we can implement web scraping protection to secure your website, but let us begin by discussing the concept of malicious web scraping itself.
The Anatomy of a Web Scraping Attack
In general, the malicious web scraping attack consists of three main phases:
. Identifying Target:
the first phase of a web scraping attack is to identify their target by recognizing URL address and parameter values. In this phase, the web scraper bot also makes the necessary preparation to ‘attack’ the website based on the information it has gathered. This can include using spoof IP addresses, creating fake user accounts on the target website, masking the scraper bot’s identity, and so on.
. Scraping The Target:
In this phase, the web scraper bot runs on the target website (or an app) and will perform its objective. This operation might also burden your site’s resources and might result in a severe slowdown or even complete failure (a DoS attack).
. Data Extraction:
the web scraper bot extracts the website’s data and/or content according to the bot’s objective and stores it in its database. The bot might use the extracted data to perform other, more severe attacks.
Web Scraping Protection To Secure Your Website
Based on these phases, below we will discuss the appropriate protection methods we can use to protect our system against this operational method.
1. Detecting Bot Activities
Since web scraping attacks are done by bots, we can prevent them by detecting bot activities as early as possible.
So, check your logs and traffic patterns regularly, and when you see any activities indicative of malicious scraping attacks— like repetitive actions from the same IP or attempts to access hidden files—, we can limit access or block this activity entirely.
Here are some additional tips:
. Use All Possible Indicators
The most common approach in detecting bot activities is via IP-based detection. However, nowadays bots are getting more sophisticated and can rotate between thousands if not millions of IP addresses, so this approach might not be effective anymore. Instead, we should use other methods to detect as many indicators as we can, for example:
- How fast the ‘user’ fills out forms, their mouse movement, and how they click.
- Similar repetitive requests, even when they come from different IP addresses can also indicate scraping activity.
. Rate limiting
An effective approach to limit bot activities is to only allow users to perform a limited number of specific actions at a certain time. For instance, a common approach is to limit only a number of searches per second from any user (or IP address), while at the same time users must use the search function to access our content (there’s no single page listing all of our blog posts). This is an effective approach to slow down web scrapers.
An advanced web scraping detection and blocking solution can help detect malicious bot activities as soon as possible, and limit access to these bots without disrupting legitimate users. We will discuss more of this further below.
2. Using CAPTCHAs
A CAPTCHA test stands for (“Completely Automated Test to Tell Computers and Humans apart”) and is designed to filter out bots while allowing legitimate human users to access our service.
While CAPTCHAs can be quite effective in filtering out basic bot activities, the thing is, CAPTCHA is no longer very effective nowadays for more sophisticated cybersecurity threats, and there are some things to be aware of when using CAPTCHAs:
- CAPTCHAs can be solved in bulk and nowadays there are CAPTCHA farms—services selling the help of human workers to solve CAPTCHAs. Even the most sophisticated CAPTCHA won’t be effective to tackle this, and using more complex CAPTCHAs can ruin user experience (UX) instead.
- Don’t ever include the solution of the CAPTCHA in the HTML markup of the site. The scraper bot can pull this code and use it to solve the CAPTCHA.
- The more CAPTCHAs you use on your pages, the more ‘secure’ your site is (although nowadays it won’t be 100% secure). At the same time, more CAPTCHAs will equal a worse user experience.
In general, you can think of CAPTCHA as a prerequisite to securing your site from malicious bot activities including web scraping. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to web scraping and you’d need to pair it with
3. Automated Bot Detection and Prevention
As discussed, bots are now more sophisticated than ever, it can switch between a lot of different UAs, IP addresses, and are getting better at mimicking human behaviors like nonlinear mouse movements, irregular keystrokes, and so on.
This is why an automated, advanced bot detection protection that can perform a behavioral analysis is necessary if you want to truly protect your website from web scraping attacks. This is where a service like DataDome can help you.
Yet, when you implement an automated bot detection solution, you might want to consider the following factors:
- Make sure the solution will not block any of your legitimate users (false positives).
- Check the effectiveness of the solution in detecting sophisticated bots that mimic human behavior
- If your website has a lot of pages but only a few of them are more vulnerable to web scraping threats, you might want to only implement the solution on the specific pages to avoid burdening your resources
Unauthorized web scraping might slow down or even cause total website failure, and web scraping performed by cybercriminals might cause serious data breach and other damages.
Having clear protection measures to protect your website from malicious web scraping activities is very important, and with how bots are getting more sophisticated than ever, using an advanced bot detection solution that can perform a behavioral analysis is necessary.