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What is a bot?

Bots have a wide variety of uses on the internet. The automated programs often prove to be practical helpers, but they are also misused by cyber criminals for malicious purposes.


01

Bot: a definition

The word “bot” is derived from the word “robot.” The very origin of the word indicates the key feature of such tools. A bot is a computer program that automatically and autonomously performs predefined tasks. These are often monotonous and frequently recurring operations. In most cases, no user intervention is required. Among others, bots are used by search engines, but users also encounter them as chat bots, social bots or as computer-controlled characters in gaming.

02

Types of bots

Bots are used for both legal and illegal purposes. In the following we will introduce you to some of the most common representatives of this type of software. The spectrum ranges from simple business tools, bots for gaming and social media, to malicious spam bots.

Web crawlers

Indexing websites is the basis for how search engines like Google or Bing work. Only by using web crawlers, which analyze and index URLs, is it at all possible to sort and present search results. These bots independently scour the internet for relevant content to list on search services.

Chat bots

Particularly in e-commerce, companies increasingly rely on chat bots for customer support. The automated helpers provide answers to the most relevant questions and support customers when shopping or troubleshooting. For more complex topics, the customer is usually referred to conventional customer support. This enables companies to lower the workload of their own service teams and provide cost-effective 24/7 support for their customers.

Social bots

Social bots, as the name implies, are mainly used in social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Here, the tools perform a variety of tasks:
  • Publishing content for a page or a user
  • Automatically liking and commenting on Facebook posts or retweeting and commenting on tweets
  • Interactive user communication as a chat bot. However, this application is not allowed in the terms and conditions of most social networks.

Trading bots

Bots are also used to trade digital currency. The prices of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are extremely volatile, so it makes sense to continuously monitor your own investment. Since no one can do this from an economic standpoint, trading bots handle this task.

Game bots

We also encounter bots in computer games, mostly as NPCs (non-player characters). They are computer-controlled players or opponents in PC games. In online role-playing games, there are other types of game bots that players employ to perform monotonous tasks, such as collecting resources or experience points. However, most games do not allow the use of such bots and ban players who use them.

Email bots

Similar to chat bots, email bots manage conversations with customers and prospects. Email bots can be integrated into existing email automation platforms and take over part of email communication. These mailing tools are particularly suitable for simple support or contact requests.

Spam bots

Cyberkriminelle nutzen Bots mitunter für den Versand von Spam-E-Mail. Dabei kommen sogenannte E-Mail-Harvester zum Einsatz, die Websites automatisiert nach öffentlich zugänglichen Adressen durchforsten. Diese massenhaft aggregierten Adressen verkaufen die Betrüger im Anschluss gewinnbringend im Darknet oder nutzen sie selbst als Ziel für Spam-Kampagnen. Der eigentliche Versand erfolgt ebenfalls meist mittels Bots beziehungsweise Botnetzen.

03

The botnet—when countless numbers of bots join together

Botnets pose a particular threat to companies and websites. The term botnet refers to the combination of many bots to create a network acting in unison. The individual bots run from devices that have been infected by botnet trojans without their users noticing their presence. In addition to computers, smartphones and all Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart TVs, network printers and routers can also be compromised.

Botnets are often used in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. A botnet overloads the website or other online service with vast amounts of requests until the underlying infrastructure collapses. As a result, the service is no longer, or only to a very limited extent, available to actual customers. A DDoS attack can cause considerable damage to a company. It is therefore advisable to protect yourself against botnets at an early stage, especially since attacks are becoming more frequent and more serious.

04

Opportunities and threats for companies

Chat bots on their own website as well as email bots are being increasingly used by a growing number of companies to simplify and enliven communication with their customers and prospects. They are popular marketing instruments and represent an opportunity, especially in customer acquisition. Malicious bots, on the other hand, pose a threat to companies that should not be underestimated. They harm SEO rankings, slow down webshops and are used in combination as a botnet for DDoS attacks.

05

Bots: Things you need to know

There are many different types of bots on the internet. Often the small, independently working programs perform a useful function. It is therefore advisable for companies to develop an appropriate strategy for the use of bots in order to profitably benefit from the technology. However, it is also important to address the issue of defense against malicious bots. They may otherwise pose a threat of serious economic damage due to interruptions in business operations. This primarily impacts online commerce. In addition, companies may also suffer damage to their image resulting from a limited customer experience.

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How to control your bot-generated traffic efficiently:

  • These bots threaten your business
  • Bots leave fingerprints
  • Graded combat: from blocking to honeypot

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