You may have heard or read the term “bot” in the context of cyber security. Normally we hear this word in the wake of a cyberattack and relate it to breaches in computer or network security. While there are certainly bad bots, there are good bots too! So what exactly is a bot, how can you differentiate, and how do they work?
What are bots?
The term bot is short for robot and is a type of software application created by a user (or hacker) that performs automated tasks on command. There are so many variations, from chatbots to spider bots to imposter bots. Good bots are able to assist in automating day to day activities, such as providing up to the minute information on weather, traffic, and news. They can also perform tasks like searching the web for plagiarized content and illegal uploads, producing progressively intelligent query results by scouring the internet content, or helping find the best purchase deals online.
While we encounter bots like these in our everyday activities without really thinking about them, being aware of bad bots is important. Bad bots, used by adversaries, perform malicious tasks and allow an attacker to remotely take control over an infected computer. From there, hackers can infiltrate the network and create “zombie computers,” which can all be controlled at once to perform large-scale malicious acts. This is known as a “botnet”.
How do bots work?
Cybercriminals often use botnets to perform DoS and DDoS attacks (denial of service and distributed denial of service, respectively). These attacks flood target URLs with more requests than they can handle, making regular traffic on a web site almost impossible. Hackers use this as a way to extort money from companies that rely on their website’s accessibility for key business functions and can send out phishing e-mails to direct customers to a fake emergency site.
Protect yourself from bad bots
Don’t let this information scare you though! Awareness is a great first step to recognizing any potential harmful activity, whether on your own computer or on a site you visit online. Preventing bad bots from causing attacks before they start is easy with these tips:
- Ensure your antivirus software is up to date by setting it to automatically update.
- Routinely check the security options available to you for your iOS, web hosting platform, or internet service provider.
- Only click on links and open emails from trusted sources. Avoid accepting friend or connect requests, responding to messages, or clicking on links from unknown persons on social media.
Bots can be incredibly helpful, and we use them every day. Knowing how to differentiate the good from the bad while taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself against malicious bots will ensure that you only need to deal with bots when they are telling you about blue skies or saving you money on that great shirt you’ve been wanting!