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Insights into Editorial: The rise of the bots

Insights into Editorial: The rise of the bots

The rise of the bots


Bots are shaping the Internet today. Despite being around since the beginnings of the Internet, they are getting their time in the spotlight.

What are bots?

A bot is a computer programme designed to work automatically. It is mainly used to gather information on the Internet or perform repetitive jobs at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering (web crawler), in which an automated script fetches, analyses and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human.

Specifically, a bot is an application that performs an automated task, such as setting an alarm, telling you the weather or searching online. Some of the examples are Siri and Cortana, Microsoft’s Clippy and AOL Instant Messenger’s SmarterChild.

Bots are everywhere in technology, ranging from malicious bots that come with a virus to search engine spiders that crawl the Internet looking for new Web pages to add. For instance, chatbots can hold a conversation with you to accomplish a task.

What can bots do?

Today’s bots can help us order food, shop for clothes, save money and find restaurants. For example, the Hi Poncho chatbot available in Facebook Messenger tells you the weather around you.

Many bots are programmed to act like humans when you talk to them so it feels like asking a person for help instead of just typing in a search engine.

Artificial intelligence-based bots are increasingly being used by organisations and entities to provide customer care, and sales and marketing services.

Some developers and companies believe that people are tired of apps and would rather use bots. Instead of having many different apps on your phone, you could have one with multiple bots that can help with different tasks, like ordering food or checking sports scores.

Are they good or bad?

Like for every technology, there are two sides to bots as well.

  • One of the typical beneficial uses of a bot is to gather information.
  • Another good use is automatic interaction using instant messaging, instant relay chat or other web interfaces.
  • Dynamic interaction with websites is yet another way bots are used for positive purposes.

Norton defines a malicious bot as self-propagating malware that infects its host and connects back to a central server(s). Malicious bots can gather passwords, log keystrokes, obtain financial information, relay spam, and exploit back doors opened by viruses and worms, among other things.

Bots have also come under scrutiny in relation to automated accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Efforts are being made to restrict these bots from spreading misinformation on the respective platforms.

How do you know your computer is infected?

According to Norton, symptoms such as a slow Internet or crashing of computer for no apparent reason, pop-up windows and advertisements appearing even when a web browser is not being used, friends and family receiving mails you did not send, or a fan going into “overdrive” when the device is idle may mean that your system is infected.

Use of Bots for malicious purposes

Malicious use of bots is the coordination and operation of an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. A spambot is an internet bot that attempts to spam large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links. More than 94.2% of websites have experienced a bot attack.

  • There are malicious bots (and botnets) of the following types:
  • Spambots that harvest email addresses from contact or guestbook pages
  • Downloader programs that suck bandwidthby downloading entire websites
  • Viruses and worms
  • DDoSattacks
  • Bots are also used to buy up good seats for concerts, particularly by ticket brokers who resell the tickets.
  • Bots are also used to increase views for YouTube
  • Bots are used to increase traffic counts on analytics reporting to extract money from advertisers. 
  • Bots may be used on internet forums to automatically post inflammatory or nonsensical posts to disrupt the forum and anger users (Internet Troll).

What are the precautions and remedies?

The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. 

Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.

It is important to have good anti-malware software. All software should be updated and system updates should not be ignored.