What is a bot?
A bot, short for “robot,” is a computer program or an algorithm that performs repetitive tasks and can automate processes. These may include web indexing, web scraping, automated messaging, and information retrieval.
Bots can perform repetitive tasks much faster than humans, and because of that, they are often combined with various software applications and websites. Integrating bots into everyday tasks means higher efficiency and fewer repetitive tasks for humans. On the other hand, bots can also be applied for malicious purposes and are regularly used by hackers to spread malware, especially through distributed denial of service (DDoS) and botnet attacks.
How do bots work?
Bots work by closely following scripts and algorithms to accomplish the tasks they were created for. They respond to specific triggers or commands that signal the bot to start working. These may include anything from keywords to message requests on social media.
Bots can be of various types, depending on how they’re designed. The three most prevalent bot operating methods that define its type are:
- Automation, which allows accomplishing repetitive tasks without human intervention.
- Computer vision, which tries to mimic human vision digitally.
- Machine learning, which follows patterns to determine the most probable, human-like responses and enables chatbots to respond naturally, just like Replika AI does.
Bots can be both good and malicious. The good bots can help to improve user experience and automate repetitive tasks. The malicious bots, created by hackers, can deliver malware, steal sensitive information, or add an infected computer to a botnet.
Types of good bots
Bot developers have created different bots to achieve different goals, from automated support to handling complex transactions. Let’s take a look at the most prevalent types of good bots.
Web crawlers and spiders
Otherwise known as search engine bots, these bots crawl the web, read the content, follow links, and index websites on search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. The search engines later use the data collected by a bot to provide relevant search results for the users.
Chatbots are meant to engage in conversations and answer questions without human help. The most basic chatbots are based on a set of predefined rules, whereas more advanced chatbots are trained using machine learning techniques. Banks, online retailers, and many websites use chatbots to simulate human conversation over voice or text messages and provide customer support faster.
Monitoring bots are designed to observe all sorts of activities on websites and servers to check their performance and report if any problems occur. These bots are often used by businesses to monitor prices and stocks, as well as content and social media.
Personal assistant bots
Personal assistant bots are augmented intelligence tools created to help users gather information, complete chores more quickly, and automate specific tasks. This type of bot uses a fusion of operating methods, including natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, and a set of predefined rules to follow. Some of the most notable examples of personal assistant bots are Siri and Alexa.
Various marketing companies use marketing bots to track ads, monitor customer reviews, inspect trending keywords, and more. These bots allow businesses to handle large volumes of data without involving more human power and automate repetitive tasks.
Aggregator bots are created to compile information from multiple sources and present it to users. These bots typically collect information from various websites and then add it to the platform’s news feed or deliver it directly to users. For example, many media outlets allow you to subscribe to their newsletter and receive a daily portion of selected articles.
Shopping bots help to improve customer experience by roaming the internet in search of the desired products. They can compare prices, find the best deals, provide compiled reviews and price history of a product, and automate purchases. With shopping bots, customers can save time and money and make more informed purchasing decisions.
Transaction bots are there to handle various transactions on behalf of the users. They streamline exchange processes, making them faster, more efficient, and user-friendly. Employed by various industries and operating across multiple platforms, transaction bots can reduce the chances of human error during financial operations.
Types of malicious bots
The automation and process optimization that bots can offer is valued equally by both users and hackers. Threat actors worked their way to turn positive bot activity into something malicious, crippling systems and harming internet users. Let’s take a closer look at the most widespread malicious bots storming the internet.
Spam bots create fake user accounts, scrape contact information, and spread spam across the internet. They can send spam emails or post messages on various forums or social media platforms. Spam bots are used for anything, from advertising certain products to spreading malware.
Web scraping bots
A website scraper bot can download the whole content of a targeted website which then could be republished somewhere else. It violates copyright laws and can damage the website’s reputation and cause indexing problems on Google.
Credential stuffing bots
Credential stuffing bots take leaked passwords and check if they fit any major services such as Spotify, Facebook, or Amazon. This way, they can hijack more accounts and then sell them online.
When a hacker infects a large number of devices with malware, they can be turned into “zombies” and used in DDoS attacks. DDoS bots spread malware to other devices to form a botnet, which is a collection of bots. The more bots a hacker has, the more powerful the attack can be.
Inventory hoarding bots
Inventory hoarding bots reserve or purchase excess amounts of a particular item, usually during the first minutes it’s released on the market. The main advantage of these bots is that they can make transactions faster than a human ever could. With low quantities of inventory on the market, malicious entities can sell items they’ve bought with the help of hoarding bots at a much higher price.
When used for malicious purposes, file-sharing bots can illicitly distribute files across the internet. These files can include copyrighted content or sensitive information about a person or a company. Malicious bots can also share files containing viruses, such as trojans or ransomware.
Hackers use vulnerability scanners to detect and exploit network and system weaknesses automatically. They run vulnerability scans during a cyberattack’s planning phase because they help detect possible entry points into the network. Once the vulnerabilities are found, cybercriminals try to gain unauthorized access to the network and spread malware or steal sensitive data.
Click fraud bots
Click fraud bots are designed to artificially raise the number of clicks on online ads and make faulty charges to the ad owners who pay on a per-click basis. This tactic can be used to financially drench the competitors or distort market analytics so businesses would have a corrupted view of their online performance.
Examples of bots
Various industries have found ways to take advantage of bots and use them in their services, allowing for smoother user experience and automation of repetitive tasks. Below is a list of well-known services you may be familiar with that are using bots:
- Google Search uses bots to index websites and make them more accessible to the user.
- Chatbot assistants like Siri and Alexa can provide easy access to resources and allow you to control connected devices.
- Instant messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Slack use bots to answer questions or send news updates.
- Amazon uses chatbots to answer customers’ questions and compose recommendation algorithms depending on the user’s preferences.
- Spotify uses music recommendation algorithms to help you find new music for your taste.
Advantages of bots
Bots can offer multiple advantages to different sectors, offering more time and cost-saving solutions. Here are the top benefits of bots:
- Round-the-clock availability. Bots don’t need breaks and can work on tasks that require attention without interruptions.
- Accuracy. Bots can perform tasks without the risk of error typical to humans. This is especially valuable when working with data or calculations.
- Scalability. Able to handle a high number of requests at the same time, bots can handle high-traffic periods.
- Task automation. With the help of bots, people concentrate more on complex tasks and spend less time performing routine and repetitive chores.
- Task automation. Better user experience.
Disadvantages of bots
Though able to bring ease to many industries, bots are not without drawbacks or limitations. Below are some of the most notable ones:
- Limited comprehension. As advanced as they are, bots still cannot fully comprehend human communication.
- Spreading misinformation. Various entities can use bots to spread misinformation or attempt to manipulate public opinion.
- Additional maintenance. Though bots can perform tasks 24/7, they also have to be regularly updated to keep up with advancing technologies.
- Compliance issues. Bots that are used in the fields of law or medicine have to comply with strict regulations. This may be challenging to grant.
- Spreading malware. Threat actors don’t hold back from using bots as malware vessels during elaborate cyberattacks.
How to identify a malicious bot on your computer
Malicious bots might steal your personal information, install malware on your device, and add your device to a botnet. If you’re experiencing any of the signs mentioned below, there’s a chance that you have an unwanted guest in your system:
- Your computer becomes slow or crashes without any reason.
- Suspicious ads and pop-ups keep appearing out of the blue.
- Your default home page changes.
- New unrecognized toolbars and extensions appear on your browser.
- Your computer takes longer than usual to shut down.
- The device’s operating system fails whenever it tries to update.
- Suspicious links appear on your social media profiles.
- The fan runs excessively even when you’re not doing anything with your computer.
- The storage space on your RAM reduces without any apparent reason.
What to do if your computer is infected with bots
You must act fast if you feel that a bot has infected your computer. Every minute matters because cybercriminals might already be doing their dirty job. Here’s what you can do:
Step 1. Disconnect your computer from the internet so hackers couldn’t execute commands and steal any of your sensitive information.
Step 2. Backup all important data. However, keep in mind that this data may also contain malware, so make sure to scan it for any viruses and bots before using.
Step 3. Launch your computer in Safe mode, check all apps running on your device, quit the ones you don’t recognize, and delete them and all the temporary files saved on your device.
Step 4. Run a full system security scan on your device and follow the instructions to remove the detected threats.
Step 5. Reinstall your browser.
How to protect your computer from bots
The best way to protect your devices from being infected with malicious bots is to use simple but effective security tools and to cultivate your cyber awareness. Here are some of the most effective actions you can take to protect your computer from bots:
- Use strong passwords. A strong password should contain upper- and lower-case letters with special characters and numbers. The same password should never be used for a couple of different accounts.
- Update your software on time. By postponing updates, you’re putting your computer at serious risk because hackers can exploit security holes patched years ago and infect your device with malware.
- Don’t click on suspicious links or ads. Carefully inspect every link or attachment you get and make sure it’s legitimate. Even one accidental click on a link could be enough to hijack your computer and add it to a botnet.
- Get a VPN. A VPN hides your IP address and ciphers your internet traffic with next-generation encryption to improve your online security. Many reputable VPN providers offer additional security features to boost your online safety. For instance, NordVPN’s Threat Protection feature helps you identify malware-ridden files during download, stops you from landing on malicious websites, and blocks trackers and intrusive ads on the spot.