Web scraping has become a serious threat over the last few years. Nowadays, website owners have to keep checking their backs to protect their sites from malicious web scrappers. Many are also wondering if there is a way of stopping this vice.
Unfortunately, most sites are susceptible to web scraping. The good part is that site owners can protect web scrappers from culling their data. This article will discuss everything you should know about web scraping and how to protect your website.
What is Web Scraping?
Simply put, web scraping refers to the process of obtaining data from an online site. Cybercriminals use web crawlers and bots to extract site data, including navigable paths and parameter values. They can also perform reverse engineering. Mischievous business competitors are taking advantage of web scraping to replicate the website and acquire database storage and HTML code.
Web scraping has been around since 1993 when the first web scraping bot was released. It was known as World Wide Web Wanderer and was used to determine the global web size. The first malicious web scraping bot was released in the 2000s. The Bidder’s Edge was used amongst auctioneers’ sites to aggregate pricing.
In a legal case between eBay VS. Bidder’s Edge, the court rules that web scraping is legal. The court also went ahead to clarify that the bot caused an overload on eBay’s servers, causing revenue loss. Web scraping is still a legal grey area today. However, business owners should be proactive instead of waiting for the courts to act.
Latest studies reveal that online businesses lose about 2% of their revenue to web scraping. To help you understand, this is about 70 billion dollars in the last year alone.
Why is Web Scraping Popular?
You might be wondering why web scraping has become popular over the years. Well, technological advancement has changed the world. Your audience keeps coming back to your website to access your content, and so do the attackers. They will extract your precious content and use it without compensating you.
Your online business competitors can also use web scraping bots or hire professional web scrappers to get competitive intelligence. They will then use the data to create their strategies and product catalogs.
Web scraping is quickly getting out of hand since cybercriminals are disguising the malicious bots as good bots. Take the ubiquitous Google bots, for example. According to DataDome, there are more than one million hits per day from these bots.
How Does Web Scraping Work?
Web scraping attacks follow three main steps, which include:
- Preparation. During this phase, the web scrapers identify their target URL address and the parameter values. They then mask the malicious web scraping bots to limit the detection of the attack.
- The Attack. After identifying their target URL address, the attackers proceed to scrape the website. The bots can overload the servers causing slow website performance and even downtime.
- Scraping. The attackers extract site data and database records from the target site. They store the extracted data on their database and use it for malicious purposes.
How to Protect Your Website from Web Scraping?
Taking a proactive approach is the right approach and the best way of preventing web scraping. Here are effective anti-crawler protection methods you can use to keep your site safe from web scraping:
Limit Access if You Notice Unusual Activity
Make Registration and log in a Requirement
Your content is gold, so you should make it mandatory for users to log in and register before viewing the content. Asking your users to log in before assessing your content can help keep malicious users away. However, it can also keep the real users away. To overcome this problem, you can use this method with other methods. You can ask the users to register using their email addresses and ensure that the activation code is sent to the email to ensure that each user has one account per the email address provided.
Never Expose Your APIs and Endpoints
Another crucial step you can take to protect your site from web scraping is to be alert. When you are keen, you will identify where the requests are going. Once you find out, you can reverse engineer and ensure that you use endpoints in the scrapper program. However, you need to ensure that the endpoints are unique to prevent others from using them.
Block Individual IP Addresses
You can also protect your website from web scraping by blocking suspicious IP addresses. For instance, you can block an IP address that has been sending countless requests to your online site. However, you should keep in mind that several users use proxy services, corporate networks, and VPNs. Blocking a specific IP address can lock legitimate users from your website. Take the time to understand how the user behaves before blocking that IP address.
Change the HTML Routinely
Web scraping bots only work when they detect your website’s HTML markup patterns. They use these patterns to find weak links and extract data from your online site. You can frustrate attackers and keep them away from your website if you change your website’s HTML markup frequently. All you have to do is to change the ID and class in your HTML.
ADD CAPTCHA When Required
CAPTCHAs are designed to separate humans from bots by asking them to complete tasks that humans can complete, but machines cannot answer. Asking suspicious users to complete a CAPTCHA is a good way of protecting your website from scraping.
Taking a proactive approach is the best way of protecting your website from web scraping. Taking these five steps will give you an advantage over the attackers. However, it is vital to strike a balance to improve user experience and protect your content.