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Protect Your Site Against Web Scraping


data website securityWeb scraping is the process of extracting data that is available on the web using a series of automated requests generated by a program.

It is known by a variety of terms like screen scraping, web harvesting, and web data extracting. Indexing or crawling by a search engine bot is similar to web scraping. A crawler goes through your information for the purpose of indexing or ranking your website against others, whereas, during scraping, the data is extracted to replicate it elsewhere, or for further analysis. So its a good idea to work on web scraping protection and content theft protection.

A crawler also strictly follows the instructions that you list in your robots.txt file, whereas, a scraper may totally disregard those instructions.

During the process of web scraping, an attacker is looking to extract data from your website – it can range from live scores, weather information, prices or even whole articles. The ideal way to extract this data is to send periodic HTTP requests to your server, which in turn sends the web page to the program.

The attacker then parses this HTML and extracts the required data. This process is then repeated for hundreds or thousands of different pages that contain the required data. An attacker might use a specially written program targeting your website or a tool that helps scraping a series of pages.

Technically, this process may not be illegal as an attacker is just extracting information that is available to him through a browser, unless the webmaster specifically forbids it in the terms and conditions of the website. This is a gray area, where ethics and morality come into play.

Web scraping is the act of taking content form a website with the intent of using it for purposes outside the direct control of the site owner. It is essentially using a website’s content or anything you can find on the website against terms of use or against the data license of the content being displayed on the website. There are a number of reasons people scrape content from your website:

  • Steal intellectual property
  • Gain competitive advantage
  • Damage SEO ranking
  • Create aggregation or meta-sites
  • Perform market research

There are a number of reasons why somebody must be crawling your website but none of them typically are good. In going forward, we suggest that, if you are going to run a commercial website, you need to be able to tell the difference between human traffic and bad bots.

Content sharing websites, news websites, online media are most vulnerable industries to web scraping.

Who is behind Web Scraping?

There are many different identities who are crawling your website. Your competitors, aggregators are mostly behind web scraping. Sometime its hackers and of course its search engines. And it is important to separate out the good bots which would be search engines from the bad bots. But it is a big challenge to determine the difference between hackers, aggregators and competitors. The search engines bots are generally very easy to identify and separate out. The good bots which you all want on your website are typically very obedient and they respect robots.txt file and identify themselves easily. It is those who are trying to spoof search engines, those are typically your competitors, aggregators and hackers that are difficult to identify and stop.

The Impact of Web Scraping

Web Scraping bots impact websites in a very negative way.

  • Direct loss of business and genuine users with degraded SEO
  • Slowdowns , frequent downtime and poor user experience
  • Increase in costs (infrastructure and people) – Anyone who has ever run a website understands clearly how expensive bandwidth and server resources are and bots can really hike the server expenditure by more than 100%
  • Distortion of web analytics – There are lots of sites out there giving you traffic insights, not understanding the real traffic vs bot traffic. If you don’t have a web scraping protection technology in place, your actual genuine traffic might be 30%-50% less than what you think it is.
  • Lost trust and brand value of the business

Web scrapers aren’t behind your content, they are behind your business and you need to protect your website from web scraping to protect your business. An accurate bot protection platform can stop web scraping within a few seconds and you can keep your content and pricing as your competitive advantage while also realizing other benefits like managing bot traffic to optimize web server costs and improved SEO.