What is an Internet Bot?
Updated · Jun 22, 2022
If you own a smartphone or a computer, you’ve definitely come in contact with bots. They’re on every site, app, and device, making technology much more intriguing.
Short for robots, they are also known as web bots, internet bots, or computer bots. Thanks to sci-fi books and movies, the word robot is typically associated with physical machines made of metal and wires.
But that’s not the case here.
Bots, in this instance, refer to computer software. Most developers use them to handle repetitive tasks typically accomplished by humans.
So, what is a bot, and how do they work?
Let’s dig in.
What is a Bot?
A bot is an application programmed to perform simple, repetitive, automated tasks through Robotic Process Automation (RPA). They can be autonomous or semi-autonomous and require little to no intervention from their creator.
Internet bots work via a set of instructions. They intend to emulate human-handled tasks like messaging on a large scale. They handle these tasks faster and more accurately than humans. People use bots primarily for web crawling. It involves retrieving, analyzing, and filing information from different servers.
So, how exactly do they work?
How Do Bots Work?
Bots typically operate over a network. They communicate via internet-based services like instant messaging. A predefined trigger activates web bots. This could be a specific keyword or message sent on social media. Once this happens, the communication starts, and they carry out their scripted tasks.
A bot's tasks have to be logical and follow sets of rules. Bots require well-defined inputs and outputs. Anything complicated is a no-no for bots.
Bots can work via computer vision, automation, or machine learning. Computer vision attempts to understand and replicate the human visual system from digital images and videos. Automation means that they carry out tasks without human intervention. Machine learning is deducing trends from data patterns and making adaptations based on them.
But how are bots created?
They are digital tools made from sets of algorithms, enabling them to carry out their designated tasks. They work nonstop, as long as they maintain a connection with their server.
With this in mind, let’s explore the different types of internet bots.
What Types of Bots are There?
Generally, bots are neutral. They can only do what they are programmed to do. The creator's intent and the bot's use determine whether they are good or bad bots.
There are different types of bots, but they all fall into two classifications, legitimate and malicious.
These bots cause no harm. They strictly exist to bring value to their creator and users. For example, a programmer can create a legitimate bot to provide excellent customer support. They answer customer questions quickly at any time and help relieve the workload of customer support employees. Users exploit others to improve a website’s performance and enhance the user experience.
In some cases, good bots become malicious and cause harm. The creator could have honest intentions when building it. However, miscalculating or poor programming skills could unintentionally cause the bots to wreak havoc.
For example, a programmer could create bot programs for web scraping, which is legal. Another bot could benefit developers who seek data. However, if the bot collects large volumes of data from a single website, it could trigger a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. This attack happens when a website’s servers are overwhelmed and crash, making it inaccessible to users. As such, good bot, gone bad!
With legitimate bots covered, let’s look at the bad ones.
Also known as malware bots, these exist to cause harm. Hackers can use them to steal sensitive data from sites, install spyware or prevent easy detection of an ongoing cybercrime. These bad bots help hackers do their dirty work by facilitating attacks on apps and websites. They are programmed to break into victims’ accounts, steal contact information, and send spam messages. Because bots are so efficient, they are sometimes difficult to detect.
To successfully disguise the source of the attack, hackers can disperse bad bots into a network. A bot network, or botnet, refers to a series of internet-connected devices that individually run one or more website bots. Most times, this activity happens without the device owners’ knowledge. Since botnet traffic features multiple IP addresses, it is harder to trace and block the source of the harmful bot traffic. Botnets can also expand by exploiting zombie machines to send spam or infect more devices.
Malware bots also infect devices via downloads. The malware is sent in a download format by email or social media messages, often asking the victim to click a link. In most cases, the link is in a video or image form. Once the user clicks the link, their device becomes a part of the botnet. In other cases, the victim may receive a warning stating that their device will get a virus if they do not immediately click the attached link. Unsuspecting victims who click the link immediately have their devices infected with a virus.
Consumers attacked by malware bots typically must deal with identity and data theft issues.
Let’s explore some examples of bots.
Also known as web spiders, they rapidly comb through the internet and index any content encountered. They then process the information and send it back to a search engine provider, like Google. Crawl Bots can take between a day to a few months to index new information.
These are a type of crawl bot that scrapes or strips websites for certain types of data. The act of scraping helps to drive site traffic. It also gathers potential customer data and uses this information to display helpful information. Hackers can also use scraper bots to steal credit card numbers from sites.
Chatbots simulate human conversation through voice and text. They mostly answer FAQs and handle basic communication about a brand’s products or services. Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are examples of chatbots. They are called knowledge chatbots and offer general responses to commands and questions. Although we use these bots for work and other aspects of daily living, cybercriminals can manipulate them to phish for personal information or scam users with social engineering schemes.
These types of bots maintain the health of a website by monitoring for bugs and vulnerabilities. They report any discrepancies to the site owner. You could think of them as the worker bees of the bot world. Their owners can also use them to monitor user activity and behavior on a website.
These are programmed to help automate shopping and checkout processes. You can also use bots to assist in searching for airfare deals. Others perform margin purchases and sales, though such actions are prohibited in the US for things like concert tickets.
Used for completing financial transactions, they can also verify a user’s identity, complete a purchase and block a stolen credit card. Some examples of transaction bots are PIN authenticators, checkout desks, and credit card processors. Since they deal with large volumes of sensitive financial data, these bots are usually very secure. As expected, though, they are often targeted by hackers.
Examples of Malicious Bots
Unfortunately, some programmers design bots to cause harm and commit unethical acts.
Let’s explore what bots do that cause harm. For example, malicious bots can damage computer systems and devices, steal sensitive information, and carry out other illegal activities.
Here are some types of bad internet bots::
They send tons of infected data via email, websites, social media sites, and instant messaging apps. Some spam bots want to spy on the victim and steal their data. Others aim to spread viruses and compromise devices and computer systems.
This kind of bot searches queries and sends bogus links to the searcher. Once they click the link, they unknowingly infect their device with malware or other types of computer viruses. File-sharing bots can be particularly tricky to avoid.
These bots scan networks and devices for weaknesses. They are similar to monitoring bots. However, hackers create them specifically to find exploitable security holes.
Hackers use this malicious bot to steal OTP (one-time-password) and 2FA (two-factor authentication) codes. Private account owners often use OTP and 2FA for extra security and password retrieval. However, it is easy to let your guard down when a voice bot asks for your code. It is best to create extra-strong passwords and use a secure password manager to avoid falling victim to voice bots.
These types of software bots aim to crash websites. They do this by flooding their target with requests. It sometimes takes a network of botnets to carry out a DDoS attack. But why crash a website? Most times, hackers behind an attack will ask for a ransom. DDoS bots can hold the website hostage until demands are met. This is the most often used type of internet robot against big organizations.
Hackers use this type of bot to attack dating apps and websites. They mimic human interaction and scam unsuspecting victims into revealing sensitive personal and financial information. They basically catfish people using bot technology.
Click Fraud Bots
These bots generate a large amount of malicious bot traffic via fake ad views on social media posts and search engines. They pretend to create real human engagement on ads and anything else that depends on clicks for revenue generation. Advanced versions of click fraud bots are programmable to post comments and other forms of engagement. They make advertisers and site owners believe their content is more successful than it is. In the end, they cost advertisers a large portion of their budgets.
Credential Stuffer Bots
After hackers have sourced usernames and passwords via data breaches, they unleash credential stuffers to crowd them into online login pages. The aim is to gain unauthorized access to user accounts.
Over the years, bot application has expanded significantly to help improve communication and processes across different industry sectors. Let’s explore some of their common uses.
Many organizations now exploit AI-powered bots that handle specific HR tasks. Companies can improve employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention with HR bots. For example, Polly monitors employee productivity and satisfaction. Also, Botbot.AI effectively handles onboarding processes and trains new employees.
Bots help improve supply chain processes by giving real-time status updates. Organizations also use bots to improve customer service and secure shipping processes. An everyday use of bots in administrating supply chains is inventory management. LiveTiles is one example of a bot application that combines staff management systems, inventory tracking, and supply chain tracking to form an all-in-one retail store management system.
Sales and Marketing
Bots help enhance sales and marketing processes such as scheduling meetings, ensuring document confidentiality, seamless expense tracking, and report updating. They’re an excellent tool for recommending new offers to customers and getting feedback. Online retailers also use Chatbots to attract customers and improve sales via social media accounts.
For example, the Dominos’ Facebook Messenger pizza bot makes the pizza ordering process seamless. All customers need to do is send the pizza emoji or word. The bot understands and processes this, and the customer receives their pizza.
Chatbots are great at optimizing customer care processes. Bot automation is why we have self-service portals and instant responses to FAQs and customer queries. They’re also great for order tracking and increased product engagement. One working example is Expedia’s Facebook Messenger chatbot. This tool enables users to browse hotels and check availabilities around the world.
Another example is West Jet. Their Facebook chatbot can book flights for users. All it needs are the departing and arriving dates and locations.
Applying bot technology in healthcare has led to a substantial increase in efficiency and patient care. Hospitals use chatbots to track prescription use and for automatic medication re-fills. Although a medical professional must approve the request, the bot helps streamline the process.
Another use of bot technology in healthcare is in therapy. Therapy bots are efficient as they offer instant responses to patients and are available 24/7. The best part is that they lack any stigma. Woebot is a working example. Experts use it for cognitive behavioral therapy and have recorded success in helping users transform their thinking patterns and positively change their behaviors.
So, what is an internet bot?
Simply put, it is a digital tool that automatically carries out simple, repetitive tasks. They can either interact directly with users or work discreetly in the background.
The two classifications of bots are legitimate and malicious.
Examples of legitimate bots include crawl, chat, scraper, monitoring, and transaction ones. Malicious bots include DDoS, click fraud, credential stuffer, spam, and vulnerability scanner types.
The takeaway? Bot applications are effective and make work processes and user experiences seamless. However, in the wrong hands, malicious actors can use them to wreak havoc on individuals and organizations.
What are internet bots used for?
Internet bots emulate and automate tasks on a larger scale. They handle these tasks faster and more efficiently than humans. They are also available 24/7.
How does a bot work?
A bot typically works over a network. It can work alone or communicate with other bots. For a bot to work, it has to be triggered by a keyword or action. Once it receives the trigger, the communication starts, and they automatically carry out the tasks they are programmed to do.
What are the different types of internet bots?
There are two primary types: legitimate and malicious or malware bots.
Are there any risks associated with using internet bots?
Yes, there are. Some risks of using bots include security breaches, data, identity theft, and online scams.
What are some examples of internet bots?
Some examples of bots are:
- Shopping bots
- Crawler bots
- Scraper bots
- Transaction bots
- Monitoring bots
- Spam bots
- File sharing bots
- DDoS bots, etc.
What is the purpose of an internet bot?
Different bots have different purposes. Generally, they automate tasks that a human would otherwise handle. Now that you know what a bot is, you can choose its best uses.
Nesiama is a writer who is intrigued by technology and the human mind. Her strengths lie in content creation and development, SEO writing, and paid advertising. When she's not working, she loves to take long walks on the beach, scribble and cook.
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