What is Web Scraping and What is it used for

Web scraping is using bots to collect information from the internet, either for legitimate or illegal purposes. A web scraper bot looks at the text, images, and even HTML code it finds online and sends information to its owner. A lot of web scraping is illegal – for example, cybercriminals can use scraper bots to copy entire websites and use them to steal people’s credit card numbers.

Web scraping can be either malicious or not. Many people use scraper bots legitimately; many others use them for unethical or illegal purposes. If you have a business, you should know something about the benefits of web scraping tools and the dangers of malicious scraper bots.

What Are Some Legitimate Uses of Scraper Bots?

The most obvious is scraper bots used by search engines to rank websites. Even a huge company like Google could never afford to rank every website manually. There are so many of them that algorithms have to do it.

A search engine bot moves from one web page to another and determines what the website is about and its quality. The bot will look at how fast the site loads, how good the content is, whether or not the site works well on mobile phones, and other factors before ranking it.

If the site is excellent, it will rank at the top of an internet search for commonly used keywords. If it is not so good, it may still rank at the top for keywords that are uncommon. There are many other legitimate uses for these bots.

Sentiment Analysis

If a company releases a new product, they need a lot of information to get a true picture of what the public thinks of it. They can use a scraper bot to look at forums and social media to collect information. Reviews and sales are the best way to know if users like a product, but information from social media posts can tell a company how to improve it.

Lead Generation

Finding the contact information of potential clients takes time. A good bot can gather a huge amount of information in a short time and give you a long list of clients to contact.

Market Research

You can also use bots to gather information about things like price trends in real estate or anything else. A scraper bot may also be capable of categorizing information itself.

What is Malicious Web Scraping?

Malicious web scrapers use bots to do unethical things. Some of these things are clearly very illegal; other times, they are unethical but do not clearly cross any legal lines. You should know about how hackers can use web scraping illegally or how your competitors can use scraper bots to gain an advantage over you.

Copyright Infringement

A web scraper bot can steal all the HTML code, text, and images from a website. The owner can then illegally create copies of this site elsewhere on the internet. This lets them make money from content that other people created.

Sometimes, it is not easy to tell which of the sites is the copy. Even without theft, copyright infringement is harmful to business owners. If you put a lot of time or money into creating content for your site, don’t tolerate anyone who copies it.

Theft and Fraud

On its own, copying is illegal because it is copyright infringement. However, a thief can go beyond this and use a copied site to steal people’s money or commit identity theft.

If someone finds a copy of a website and mistakes it for the real one, they may make a purchase from this site. A hacker can then take their credit card or banking information and steal money from them.

Researching and Undercutting Prices

A scraper bot might go around collecting prices from different companies so that their owner can undercut their competition’s prices. Scraper bots can do detailed price research that would take a lot of time for a human to do.

For example, they could collect a lot of information about how much it costs to rent different cars from different companies in different cities. This is not always ethical or legal – sometimes, undercutting is considered predatory pricing.

Stealing Personal Information to Sell

Anyone who uses a scraper bot to build a copy of a website can use it to steal any of the information people enter. They can use a fake site to steal passwords, usernames, addresses, and more. There is a black market for usernames and passwords on the dark web, and hackers are always trying to find lists of usernames and passwords to sell.

Is it Hard to Make a Scraper Bot?

Building a scraper bot only takes a moderate amount of programming skill. For this reason, many people build custom scraper bots themselves. Python is a common language for coding scraper bots.

If you are interested in doing web scraping, some tips are:

  • The python programming language has a lot of libraries that can be useful to you. Don’t spend a lot of time developing a solution that you can easily find in a library. Professional programmers don’t do everything themselves – they look things up to get things done fast.
  • Stay within the law. Look up laws in your area, not just in your country, and look at the terms of service for each site.
  • Try to be ethical and not just legal – for example, don’t slow anyone’s site down by sending it too much traffic.
  • Plan everything out before you do it. Know exactly what information you want to find before you send your bot out to get it.

How Can You Protect Your Site From Scraper Bots?

It is not easy to completely keep scraper bots out of your site, especially if no one is doing anything illegal. However, you can use bot detection software to block traffic that is obviously automated. Bot detection software can protect you from scraper bots by:

  • Blocking traffic from users with obviously artificial behaviour. A bot that is trying to collect information won’t behave anything like a human user, and antibot software can detect that and refuse access. While some bots can mimic a human user, others are much less sophisticated and easy for software to detect.
  • Blocking traffic from IP addresses with a bad reputation. If botters frequently use an IP address, antibot software will have it on record and block traffic from it.
  • Requiring anyone accessing your site to be able to run javascript or to enable cookies. This is enough to block a lot of automated traffic.

Another option is to require captchas and other tests to prove that traffic is coming from a human. Another trick is to use images rather than text to display information.

For example, your contact info page could use images and not text to show your phone number, email address, mailing address, and so on. Bots may not be able to extract information from images.

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