Automated scripts, known as bots, can generate significant volumes of traffic to your mobile applications, websites, and APIs. Targeted bots take this a step further by targeting website content, such as product availability or pricing.
Traffic from targeted bots can result in a poor user experience by competing against legitimate user traffic for website access to high-demand inventory, increasing business risk through chargebacks from fraudulent transactions, and increasing infrastructure costs.
In 2021, AWS released AWS WAF Bot Control for Common Bots to help you detect and control common bots. In October 2022, AWS released a new feature—AWS Bot Control for Targeted Bots—that can help you detect and protect against bots that use advanced techniques to actively avoid detection.
In this post, I provide an overview of Bot Control for Targeted Bots and show you how to enable Bot Control to detect and block both common and targeted bots.
Overview of Bot Control for Targeted Bots
Bot Control detects anomalies in usage patterns and provides new flexible mitigation options to isolate bad bots. These options include dynamic rate-limiting, challenge actions, and the ability to block based on labels and confidence scores.
With Bot Control for Targeted Bots, you can use bot protection rules to allow verified common bot traffic and, at the same time, to challenge unwanted advanced bot traffic. You can achieve both tasks from the same configuration page without making application or architectural changes. You can also configure fine-grained rule sets. For example, you can configure blocking actions for high-risk bots while allowing for exceptions for known IP ranges.
This release also introduces token domains, which is the ability to use the same AWS WAF web ACL across multiple domain names and Amazon CloudFront distributions to simplify client-side configuration. For example, you can use token domains to accept tokens that are generated by www.example.com for api.example.com and vice versa. In addition, you can now specify a resource path directly in the managed rule configuration, enabling you to only require a token for API calls, but not for cached, content-like images.
Bot Control for Targeted Bots sends metrics to Amazon CloudWatch to identify application access trends. The metrics include the percentage of human traffic compared to bot traffic and the count of requests for sensitive web pages such as login and checkout pages. Each rule in Bot Control produces a unique label so that you can review CloudWatch metrics and filter logs to understand traffic patterns. By using these mechanisms, you can identify, isolate, and remediate operational issues.
In this walkthrough, I will show you how to set up Bot Control for Targeted Bots to help protect a CloudFront distribution.
You will set up an AWS WAF web ACL with an AWS Managed Rule for Bot Control for Targeted Bots. The rule detects bots and then decides the appropriate action:
- Dynamically rate limit verified bots – Based on traffic history, Bot Control creates an intelligent baseline and then applies rate limits to abnormally high volumes.
- Enable the challenge action – You have a new option, called challenge, along with the already supported options of count, allow, block, and CAPTCHA. The challenge option initiates a process of challenge interstitial, which means that Bot Control provides a challenge to the browser and creates a domain token when the challenge is resolved.
Set up Bot Control for Targeted Bots
In this section, I will show you how to set up Bot Control for Targeted Bots by creating a new web ACL or editing an existing one.
To set up Bot Control for Targeted Bots
- Open the AWS WAF console, and then do one of the following:
- To create a new web ACL, choose Create a new web ACL.
- To edit an existing web ACL, choose the name of the ACL.
- On the Rules tab, for the Add rules drop-down, select Add managed rule groups.
- Add a Bot Control rule set to the web ACL. Choose Edit to edit the rule.
- For Bot Control inspection level, select the inspection level for Bot Control. For this walkthrough, we chose Targeted to enable Bot Control for Targeted Bots.
- Review and select the actions to be taken on each category of bots detected, and then choose Save rule. In our example, we set allow, challenge, and count rules for the categories, as shown in Figure 2.
You can select different actions for each category based on your application security needs:
- Allow: Allows the request to be sent to a protected resource.
- Block: Blocks the request, returning an HTTP 403 (Forbidden) response.
- Count: Allows the request to be sent to the protected resource while counting detections. The count shows you bot activity that is occurring without blocking or challenging. When you turn on rules for the first time, this information can help you see what the detections are, before you change the actions.
- CAPTCHA and Challenge: use CAPTCHA puzzles and silent challenges with tokens to track successful client responses.
- In this example you will configure a scope-down statement to apply Bot Control for a given URI path only.
On the same page in the step above, you can add a scope-down statement to ensure you use and incur Targeted Bots charges for the requests where you need protections. There are more examples of how to use scope-down statements in our documentation.
Select “Enable scope-down statement” and configure the rule to inspect the URI path as per figure 3.
- To add domain names to be protected, scroll to the bottom of the web ACL and choose Edit. In the Token domain list – optional section, enter the domain name or names to which the token verification applies. Tokens that are generated are valid for these domains.
Create the SDK link for the AWS WAF integration
In this section, I’ll show you how to find the AWS WAF SDK and add it to your application pages.
The token SDK manages the token authorization and includes the tokens in the requests that you send to your protected resources. By adding the SDK link to application pages, you can help ensure that the remote procedure calls by your client contain a valid token.
To add the SDK to your application pages
- In the AWS WAF console, in the left navigation pane, choose Application integration SDKs.
- Add the code snippet to your pages. For example, paste the provided script code within the section of the HTML.
When this integration is in place on your application’s pages, you can add AWS WAF rules in your web ACL to block requests that don’t contain a valid token. Replace the
Figure 4 shows the SDK link for application pages.
Now that you’ve set up the web ACL and application, you can use the bot visualization dashboard to review bot traffic patterns. Bot rules emit metrics corresponding to their labels, helping you identify which rule within the AWS Managed Rule for Bot Control for Targeted Bots initiated an action. You can also use these labels and rule actions to filter AWS WAF logs so that you can further examine a request.
To view AWS WAF metrics for the distribution
- In the AWS WAF console, in the left navigation pane, select Web ACLs.
- Select the web ACL that Bot Control is enabled on and then choose the Bot Control tab to view the metrics.
In this section, I describe best practices for your Bot Control setup.
Set priority ordering of AWS WAF rules to help lower costs
You can set the priority of rule groups in a web ACL such that the order of the rule matches requests more efficiently. AWS WAF will take the action associated to the first rule it matches. If the incoming traffic matches the more wider criteria (such as IPset rules at priority 1), the associated action is taken. That request is never analyzed by the Bot Control rule and hence do not incur the bot control request analysis fees. For example, the following list shows rules ranked in order from highest priority (1) to lowest priority (5):
- Use allow and deny lists – provide IP addresses to allow or deny
- AWS Managed Rule groups for IP reputation – block bots and other threats
- General rate limit – help prevent HTTP flood across the protected resource
- AWS WAF Bot Control rule group – scoped-down to exclude static content such as images
- Rate limit for login pages – scoped-down for specific URLs and HTTP POST methods
Figure 6 shows the prioritized rules in AWS WAF.
Use scope-down statements
You can use scope-down statements to limit the requests evaluated for a rule group. For example, a scope-down statement that excludes checking requests for static assets, such as images for a given URI and HTTP method (GET), can help reduce Bot Control costs.
Block requests without tokens
If a request has a token absent or is rejected, you can block that request. For example, you might want to block requests on login or payment processing pages. To block requests with a missing or rejected token, add a rule to run after the Bot Control rule to block requests matching the labels rejected and absent:
- awswaf:managed:token:rejected – The request token is present but is either corrupt or has an expired challenge timestamp.
- awswaf:managed:token:absent – The request doesn’t have a token.
Use SDK integration
After you add the token domains and the provided script to your application pages, you can add a rule to block requests that don’t have a token. Use of the SDK helps AWS WAF verify the client application with silent challenges and provide AWS token acquisition and management. The SDK provides the full functionality of both AWS WAF Bot Control and AWS WAF Fraud Control, reducing the need for multiple SDKs if either or both rule groups are used in the web ACL.
Create CloudWatch alarms
You can add CloudWatch alarms to help you assess whether there is activity outside of the norm for your application. For example, you can monitor for a high number of token-absent metrics for a given time period.
Configure a billing alarm
To help you track costs, you can configure a billing alarm that sends an alert when you have exceeded the threshold for your expected costs.
Pricing and availability
Bot Control for Targeted Bots is available today in AWS Regions where AWS WAF is available, excluding AWS GovCloud (US) and China Regions. For information on pricing, see AWS WAF Pricing.
In this post, you learned how to use Bot Control for Targeted Bots to add visibility into bot activity on your website or applications. With Bot Control for common and targeted bots, you can detect, challenge, and block unwanted bot activity. Because Bot Control is customizable, you can tailor how you address legitimate bots while protecting against bots that use advanced techniques to actively avoid detection. For more information and to get started today, see AWS WAF Bot Control.
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