Industry Voices: Web Scraping Maximizes Your Cyber-Security Strategy

Opinion piece by Andrius Palionis, vice-president of Enterprise Sales at Oxylabs

Massive volumes of data are being created as more businesses, government agencies and individuals come online. Since data fuels the digital economy, cyber criminals continuously look for ways to compromise networks, conduct email fraud and profit from illegal content. Web scraping is a solution that helps identify weak points in IT systems, detect illegal website content, stop email fraud, and minimize data breaches.

How web scraping fights cyber-security fraud

Web scraping is the practice of using scripts (or “bots”) that crawl the internet and access websites to extract content. With multiple uses that span numerous industries, this technique is critical for rooting out illegal content, testing security systems, and identifying fraudulent websites.

The web scraping process typically uses scripts programmed in several languages, including Java, JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, and Python. Once the data is retrieved, it is parsed into a format that security experts can analyze. Most cyber-criminals are information technology experts in their own right, and employ multiple measures to avoid detection. Since data requests by cyber-security companies might come from a known IP address, criminals might block them if they suspect it’s someone checking up.

Proxies are a solution to this issue that acts as an intermediary layer to provide anonymity and prevent server issues. Datacenter proxies are ideal when a single-origin IP is required, and residential proxies deployed from multiple locations give the appearance of “organic” users to bypass potential geolocation restrictions.

Web scraping allows cyber-security specialists to access publicly available data websites with multiple use cases that enable them to:

Identify weak points in IT systems – Infrastructure downtime is more than just inconvenient. When systems go down, businesses face significant revenue losses, reduced efficiency, lowered productivity, and reputational damage.

As a proactive measure, businesses can use load testing to increase IT system resiliency and prevent downtime. Load generators identify vulnerable segments by applying network stress to measure breaking points. Requests are then increased incrementally until response times slow down significantly or the system fails. Residential proxies deployed from different locations amplify the process by simulating traffic from diverse regions. Once weak points are identified, IT professionals can then determine future improvements to mitigate risks of system failure.

Email fraud – Most tech professionals familiar with cyber-security can instantly recognize fraudulent emails. These typically come from malicious users that ask for wire transfers, banking details, or login credentials.

Fraudulent emails are typically identified by looking at the source email address and website links. While the details may seem obvious to some of us, other users struggle to see the differences and are prone to attacks. Despite widespread education, email fraud is a growing problem. According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), email wire fraud has cost companies $26Bn since 2016. While awareness and training are the first steps to remedy the issue, businesses can further protect employees by using internal scrapers to scan all outgoing and incoming emails.

Proxies are a critical part of this process that checks links to determine if they lead to legitimate organizations. Proxies provide the anonymity required to avoid detection and allow the system to detect fraudulent websites. Since phishers typically target entire companies under one subnet and common IP, datacenter proxies are an ideal solution.

Data breaches – These expose sensitive business information that includes usernames, passwords, and client data. As one of the most severe types of cyber fraud, data breaches have significant consequences that cost substantial amounts of money, harm a company’s reputation, and risk a permanent loss of business.

Data breach risk is increasing due to the widespread adoption of cloud-based computing. According to a recent IBM report, the cost of data breaches rose from $3.86M to $4.24M in 2021, the highest average total cost in the 17-year history of the report. Web scraping effectively minimizes data breaches by deploying crawlers to monitor websites continuously, disclose leaks, and create alerts. Residential proxies from various locations allow cyber-security experts to escape detection and anonymously access critical data. Alternatively, datacenter proxies are ideal for projects that require scraping targets such as websites and forums without geo-location restrictions.

Illegal website content

As more users come online, Intellectual Property (IP) theft and counterfeit product sales are increasing. According to a 2019 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the sale of illegally branded goods now stands at 3.3% of global trade. Further, the US Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress reports that international sales of counterfeit and pirated goods are greater than illicit drugs and human trafficking, estimated at $1.7-4.5Trn per year in 2018.

Finding illegitimate sellers manually is nearly impossible among billions of websites. In addition, fraudsters escape detection by quickly changing business names and internet locations. Web scraping addresses this problem by deploying bots to scan marketplaces for suspicious listings and collect evidence that helps legitimate businesses take action.

Few phenomena are as distressing as the growing incidence of child abuse content on the internet. According to statistics from The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF):

  • 132,676 confirmed websites contain images and videos of child abuse
  • 46% of victims are under ten years of age
  • 92% of the children are girls
  • European companies host nine out of ten (89%) URLs containing child sexual abuse content

Web scraping using  AI-powered tools can help with:

  1. Domain and IP address check: the tool checks to ensure the website is within a designated IP address range by confirming domains and IP addresses.
  2. Content scraping: images are scraped from websites and saved in a temporary database for further inspection.
  3. Hash checking: the scraped images are turned into hash algorithms (MD5, SHA1) and compared against a hash database provided by the police. If the hash matches, information is passed to the reporting module that alerts the authorities.
  4. AI check: images without matches undergo further inspection with an AI recognition tool that runs the content through a library. Images are passed to a reporting module if the content rates over a set threshold.

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