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Web Scraping Prevention 101: How To Prevent Website Scraping?
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Web Scraping Prevention 101: How To Prevent Website Scraping?

Web scraping is the process of rapidly extracting data/content that is available on a web page using a series of automated requests, typically performed by automated software, or bot. Think of a bot that rapidly copies and pastes the content on your web page to another page, and this is a basic web scraping process.

Web scraping on its own is not really illegal. If the bot is only scraping content that you’ve made public and doesn’t re-publish the content elsewhere, then it is perfectly legal although the bot can eat some of your resources and might slow down your site.

However, if a web scraper bot, for example, extracts hidden files that aren’t supposed to be released to the public, it can damage your site and your reputation. Site traffic the amount of data that website visitors send and receive.

In this guide, we will discuss how you can effectively prevent website scraping, but let us first begin by discussing how bots actually scrape content so we can effectively manage their activities.

How Do Bots Scrape Content?

A bot that performs web scraping or content scraping is called a web scraper bot, and typically the web scraping process is performed by sending periodic HTTP requests to your web server, which in turn sends the web page to the program.

A website scraper bot will generally send a series of HTTP GET requests, and then it will copy and save all the information sent by the web server as a reply for this request. The web scraper bot can be programmed to scrape just one page or can make its way through the whole website until it has scraped all the content of the website.

There are, however, more sophisticated web scraper bots that can use other methods for the purpose. For example, a bot may use JavaScript to fill out every form on a website automatically and download any downloadable content served by the site.

Obviously, a real human can also manually copy and paste the entire website, if they want. However, a web scraper bot can crawl and save all the content on a website much faster than any human user ever could, often in a matter of seconds even for larger websites.

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What Kinds of Content Are Targeted?

Basically, any content as desired by the bot owner/operator. The web scraper bot can scrape anything that is published publicly on the internet, be it textual content, images, HTML, CSS code, videos, and so on.

The types of content targeted would ultimately depend on the objective of the bot owner. For instance:

  • An attacker might scrape text-based content (i.e. a blog post) to repost it on another website and ‘steal’ the original publisher’s Google ranking
  • HTML and CSS codes can be stolen to duplicate the look of a legitimate company website and the attacker can launch a fake website for a scam attack
  • Use stolen content to launch social engineering (phishing) attacks, tricking other people to think that it is a legitimate website
  • The attacker might scan a website for valuable contact information such as email addresses, phone numbers, social media handles, and so on. Email harvesting bots, for example, target email addresses for the purpose of launching spam attacks.

In industries where price information is very sensitive (i.e. ticketing, hospitality, travel), web scraper bots might download hidden pricing information from a competitor company’s website so they can automatically adjust their own price to gain a competitive advantage.

How You Can Prevent Website Scraping?

Bot Management Solution

Since the main culprit in a web scraping attack is the malicious bot, then we have to implement a proper solution that can detect and manage their activities.

Bot mitigation software can use three different approaches in detecting and managing bot activities:

Signature/Fingerprinting-Based: in this approach, the bot management solution compares the signatures detected on a traffic source with a known ‘fingerprint’ like browser type, OS version, IP address, etc.
Challenge-Based: we use tests like CAPTCHA to challenge the ‘user’. If it’s a legitimate human user, the challenge should be fairly easy to solve.
Behavioral-Based: in this approach, the bot management solution analyzes the behavior of the traffic in real-time, for example, analyzing the mouse movements/clicks made by the user, whether the user makes any pattern resembling bot activities, etc.

Due to the sophistication of today’s shopping bots, a bot management solution that is capable of behavioral-based detection is recommended. DataDome, for example, is an affordable bot management solution that uses AI and machine learning technologies to analyze the traffic’s behavior and can mitigate malicious bot activities in real-time.

Obfuscate Your Data

Since web scrapers typically work by downloading the HTML for a URL before extracting out the desired content, you can obfuscate your data (data masking) to make this process harder. Bots are running on resources, and if you are successful in making them inefficient, they might just move from your site and switch targets.

The simplest way to mask your data is to have it encoded on the server, then you can dynamically decode this data with JavaScript in the client’s browser. Thus, the web scraper would also need to decode this JavaScript before it can extract the original data. While this is not difficult to do for sophisticated scrapers, it might slow them down enough.

You can also encapsulate sensitive data within images or flash, so the scraper must use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) techniques before it can extract the original data.

Update Your Terms of Use

Make sure to declare explicitly that you don’t allow scraping on your site. For example, you can say something like “you may only use the content on this website for personal and non-commercial use”.

While this obviously won’t stop attackers with malicious intent, at least it might stop honest scrapers and may also scare off less-experienced attackers.

Don’t Make It Easy For The Scraper Bots

Avoid having a page where all your valuable content is available on this page. For example, a directory page where people can click all your blog posts.

Instead, force them to use the search function to find your older blog posts, so if they want to scrape all of your posts, they have to search for all the possible search queries. Again, this may slow down the scraper bot enough so they will move to another target.

Conclusion

Having a proper bot management solution that can differentiate legitimate traffic and bot activities in real-time is the most effective approach in blocking web scraping tools. Datadome, for example, is an AI-powered solution that can use both fingerprinting-based and behavioral-based approaches to detect and manage malicious bot activities.

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