Web Scraping: The Comprehensive Guide for 2021

Scrapping has detrimental effects on your content. The transfer of your content and AdWords to another site by a scrapper can lead to a decline in SEO ranking, low conversion rates, and other effects of decreased traffic. Due to scrapping, online businesses lose 2% in revenue. Scraping, technically referred to as OWASP OAT-011, uses automated web scraping tools, bots, and web crawlers for extracting data from an application or a website. Business competitors can make a replica of your entire website. The main reason cybercriminals conduct web scrapping attacks is financial gains. If your content has monetary value, then it is at high risk of being plagiarized by scrappers. So how does scrapping work, and what scraping protection techniques can you employ?

Why do attackers target your content using web scrapper bots?

In online marketing, content is gold. It is the main reason visitors keep flooding your site (unfortunately, this includes the bots). Because they also want gold without breaking a sweat, scrappers attack your site using bots, collect and exploit your web content to republish it with no cost or effort. It undercuts your profit because the keywords are copied too, including your AdWords, driving your traffic elsewhere. In addition, if the content has some financial value, you lose it. It is because the attacker can sell at a lower cost. The greatest threat scrapping has exposed e-commerce marketing sites to is the price comparison. This is another whole industry that uses bots and has applied botnets to help in price scrapping. After extracting the prices, the attacker compares and recommends that the users buy from the cheapest site. The cyber attackers have gone to an extent where they combine unique items from various retailers depending on the price and come up with a new website.

How does a scrapping attack take place?

To understand the methods that we can use for scrapping protection, look at how the attack occurs. Understanding the anatomy of a scrapping attack can help tackle this menace in different approaches. Below are the major steps of a scrapping attack.

Identification of target URLs and parameter values

As a preparation step, the attacker, with the help of bots, identifies the target’s URL and the parameters it will scrape. It enables the bot to create face user accounts, obfuscate its source IP address, and mask itself with the good ones.

Initialize the scrapping processes and tools

After identifying the target and preparing the bot, the attacker then launches an army of bots to the target website, APIs, or mobile applications. Sometimes because of the intensive overload, the servers are overwhelmed. It may cause poor website performance or a Denial of Service (DoS).

Content and data extraction

The scraper collects the valuable data and content and keeps it in their database to analyze it later. This may include proprietary data and database records.

That is the anatomy of a scrapping attack. How can you protect yourself from it? Experts have brought various methods and techniques. They incorporate analysis of a user’s behavior and use advanced technology to detect and protect a website from scrapping. Below are some methods.

Scrapping protection strategies

Using a bot detection solution

Globally, these are acceptable methods to protect you from scrapping. By using a good bot detection solution, you can analyze the behaviors of a user. Because you do this in real-time, you can automatically block the users that exhibit the signs of scrapping before they start it without affecting the other user’s experience. A good bot detection solution must analyze both the behavioral and technical aspects of a user to identify and block the fraudulent traffic and tools used in web scrapping. 

You can deploy a bot detection solution to any system or architecture because it is delivered as-a-service and remains unmatched in detecting brute force attacks with accuracy and speed.

Limiting the rates of incoming requests

The rate at which a human being clicks through web pages is predictable; no human can browse 200 pages in a second. Conversely, bots make requests of enormous magnitude at a very high rate. An inexperienced scrapper can apply unthrottled scrapping techniques to copy the entire website. Rate limiting the number of requests emanating from a specific IP address in a certain time frame can protect your online APIs and website from scrapping. Rate limiting helps protect exploitative requests by bots, limiting the amount of data that the bot can scrape within a window of time.

Embedding content inside media objects

You can embed content inside media objects like images and videos. The copying of such embedded content becomes complex because they do not store it as strings of characters. It may require Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to extract the data from the file. The drawback to this method is, it hinders legitimate users who want to copy contact details like phone numbers and emails instead of memorizing them.

One-Time Passwords

To boost your content security online, go past the traditional username and password authentication mechanism. A one-time password is among the few techniques brought forward. It uses an out–of–band channel like a text message to challenge authenticated users to prove they are humans. OTPs use strong cryptography to grant elevated privileges and authentications within your website. It ensures that a legitimate user is present when they enter the OTP, and even if the bots get it, they cannot reuse it. You can use this method in login pages and applications relating to higher privilege actions.

Making extracting the information harder

Changing the HTML markup and DOM regularly can frustrate the scrappers to give up. It is because bots rely on established patterns when scrapping information out of your site. When the markup changes, it confuses them, making the data becomes harder to find.

The other method under this technique is going dynamic using AJAX and JavaScript. It makes the page only load bits of the content. Here, the information that the bot is supposed to scrape is behind some buttons that do not require the page to reload. Therefore, when scrapped, a timeout occurs.

Code obfuscation is the last technique in making it hard to scrape your content. Making your code hard to read complicates the way the bot operates. It is effective because it does not affect the user experience.


Your content is your gold, as said above. Therefore, many users will want to take the gold for themselves. Measures need to be put in place to prevent it from happening. As discussed above, there are various ways to protect your content and website from the ever-increasing threat of scrappers. Among all of them, the best way to stay ahead of these scalpers is by using a bot protection solution. Do not fall prey to scalpers—institute measures to protect your invaluable resource –the content.

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