The process of extracting data or content from a website without the consent of the owner of that website is called web scraping. Even when we right-click on a photo on a website on the forehead and save that photo to the desktop, we are technically performing a web scraping job, but web scraping can also be performed using programs or bots. Since manual web scraping is extremely tiring and takes a long time to complete the project, this process is not done manually. By using automated bots and programs, you may be able to process much more data much faster and complete the process at less cost.
To obtain the data of a typical user or perpetrators, a web scraper could technically execute a DDoS attack and send more requests than the website can handle. Although it is legal to perform web scraping, some web scraper programs can be illegal because they violate the security of the website. For example, if sensitive data that needs to be hidden, such as the financial or credit card information of the website user, is stolen on that website, this is called completely illegal web scraping.
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What Does Web Scraping Mean?
Web scraping, which means extracting data or output from an internet application, uses web scraping tools and web browsers to evaluate navigable paths and read parameter values. It is also necessary to reverse engineer web scraping and learn about application processes. People using web scraping can identify other competitors in the market by using web scraping and learn about them. In addition, people who use web scraping can obtain information such as HTML codes and database stores on other websites, copy those websites and store this data for later use. It is also known that e-commerce sites lose two percent of their online revenue due to web scraping.
Evolution of Web Scraping
The first of the web scraping bots was to be released in 1993 and this bot was one of the malicious bots. This web scraping bot was called World Wide Web Wanderer, and its main purpose was to measure the size of the World Wide Web. The first e-commerce web scraping site was potentially malicious and was called Bidder's Edge. Introduced in the early 2000s, the main purpose of this malicious bot was to collect competing prices among auction sites. A lawsuit was filed by eBay and Bidder's Edge which was in the early 2000s but the court saw no problem with the web scraping action. However, the overload on eBay servers resulted in lost revenue because the scraping bots were pulling in too much data.
Even today, web scraping is still in a legal gray area, so waiting for a legal solution to this problem will leave your website unattended and unprotected. So instead, online businesses need to implement efficient technical bot protection and scraper bot detection measures.
Who Uses Web Scraper Bots and Why?
You can consider your content as gold, the main purpose of each visitor to your website is to see that gold. While visitors to your website examine your gold like an exhibition, threat actor bots want to get your gold. Web scrapers are used to collect and use this content on your website. There can be many reasons for this, but the common reason is to republish your content or automatically lower your prices and the value of your website.
Online retailers aim to plan pricing strategies for future retail prices by utilizing professional web scraper teams. In addition, it is known that these people, who sell online retail, get help from these professional teams in order to create product catalogs and obtain competitive intelligence.
What Stages Does a Web Scraping Attack Consist of?
Even if you're not going to launch a web scraping attack, it's extremely important to learn what phases a web scraping attack consists of in order to understand what your website is or may be up against. If you want to develop a defense against an attack against you, you must first understand what your enemy is like and know your enemy. Let's take a look at these stages in order:
- First, the target URL address and parameter values are determined and the attack is started. At this stage, web scrapers create user accounts that look real but are completely fake, and these actually malicious scraper bots start surfing your website's servers, pretending to be good. These bots, which hide their source IP addresses and can do more for privacy, also make some preparations to launch a web scraping attack.
- Secondly, these web scraping tools, which can be called the army of scraping bots, are started and the web scraping processes begin. At this stage, the scraper bot begins its work to scrape the target website, mobile application, or API address of the army. Since bot traffic will be heavy, it will often overload the website's servers. Users who want to enter the website at times of high bot traffic may encounter poor website performance or a page out of service.
- Finally, software consisting of web scraper bots extracts the content and data from your website and stores them in databases. Web scrapers finally scrape the previously requested data on the target website or mobile application and save this data in a database. Anyone who has these data will have the chance to use and interpret this data as they wish.
How To Protect From Web Scraping: Protect Your Website Against Scrapers in 3 Steps!
If you want to protect your website against web scrapers, there are many methods you can try, but in this section, we will provide information on how to secure your website, stop unusual traffic on your website, and protect the content on your website.
How to Secure Your Website Against Web Scrapers?
If you want to protect your website against web scrapers, you should edit the terms and conditions of use and use cross-site request forgery (CSRF) tokens.
You should use cross-site request forgery (CSRF) tokens
Cross-site request forgery tokens that you can apply to your website are software created by an internet server that transmits a number to the client when the client makes an HTTP request. If the client makes another request, your web server will check for CSRF tokens in this request, and if the token is missing, your web server will prevent this request from happening. If you apply CSRF tokens to a website and start using them, it will prevent automation bots and other automation software from making random requests to your website URL addresses. However, even though you are using CSRF tokens, you should keep in mind that a web scraper bot can be complex enough to look for the right token.
How to Monitor Your Traffic and Limit Unusual Activity on Your Website?
If you want to prevent web scrapers from scraping your website, you need to set up a monitoring system, when this monitoring system detects the existence of web scraper bots, their activity will be blocked or limited.
You should limit requests on your website
As you can see from the title of this section, you can set a limit so that web scrapers as well as legitimate users can only take a certain number of actions in a given time period. To explain in more detail, you can set the actions from a specific user or IP address to be every minute or every second, and you can also allow them to make a certain number of calls. If this would significantly slow down the activities of the web scraper bots, you would limit and block traffic. If you don't want this to happen, you'll have to go beyond IP address detection. However, let's share with you the indicators that can help you detect scraper bots and list them as follows:
- Linear mouse movements
- Extremely fast form submissions
- Checking browser types
- Checking the screen resolution
- Checking the time zone
If an internet connection is shared with many people, everyone in the household to which that internet is connected will have the same IP address and all requests will be from legitimate users. You should try to differentiate between real human users and web scraper bots by looking at other factors, not just IP addresses.
You must use a website that will require an account creation
If you are sure that the data on your website is scraped a lot and extremely quickly, you can ask users to register and log in before accessing your content. While it is a good precaution for web scrapers that users have to constantly login, this will affect the user experience and cause legitimate users to stay away from your website. So you may need to use this method sparingly. Also with some complex code, web scrapers also have features like signing up for websites, these web scrapers can automatically log in to their account and still scrape your data, it is also possible for these web scrapers to create multiple accounts. The best move you can do at this point is to request an e-mail address for the registration of users and not to give access to the website before this e-mail address is verified.
You should get help from the CAPTCHAs
CAPTCHAs, whose long name is Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, are software that will help you understand whether a request comes from a human or a bot. It is possible to take action against web scrapers and automated scripts by using this software. The general purpose of a CAPTCHA test is to prepare a test that human users can easily solve, while some bots will definitely not be able to solve these CAPTCHA tests. You can include CAPTCHA on special pages where you do not want your data to be taken, or you can have CAPTCHA activated in case your system detects a possible scraper. Let's also mention that there are various ways web scrapers can get rid of CAPTCHAs.
How to Secure Your Pages on Your Website?
Although we have mentioned that you can use logins, CAPTCHAs, and request limiting to prevent your content from being scraped, none of these will 100% prevent your content from being stolen. That's why you should regularly change your HTML and create honey pot pages to better prevent the scraping of content on your website. After doing all these, your website content will be extremely protected.
You should change your HTML regularly
Finding patterns and possible vulnerabilities in a website's HTML code, a method generally preferred and tried by web scrapers, will be a real problem for you unless you change your website's codes. Because if perpetrators detect these vulnerabilities, they can perform more attacks on your website's HTML address. If you don't want your website to be attacked because of your HTML codes, you should change your website's HTML markup frequently and make a browser think that the HTML codes on your website are uniform or inconsistent. If you do this, attackers who cannot detect your site's HTML patterns will be discouraged. In addition, these changes that you will make on your website do not necessarily mean that you should redesign your website. However, it's still in your best interest to regularly change the ID and class in your HTML and CSS files.
You should create a honey pot or trap pages
Honey pot pages, which are hidden pages that a website visitor cannot click, can also be hidden elements on a website. Web scrapers have to click on any link on a predetermined website, so they are trapped by clicking on that website link. For example, you can make edits to blend in with the background of a web page and hide the link completely. If any visitor logs into this link, you can be sure that this person is not a real person.
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