As of today, I am going to take you in for a ride as we look into details about what internet bots are. How they work and also, how you can implement them. On a clear note, have you ever done a search at Google and get a message saying you need to type some characters to keep searching?
Those characters are called a CAPTCHA. Whereby, this is a method designed to help someone prove they aren’t an automated program hitting Google. Sometimes Google can mistake a human for programs like these. In detail, the Google security blog sheds more light on how this can happen.
Google explains that a CAPTCHA can be triggered by automated processes sometimes caused by worms. As well as proxy search traffic going through infected computers or DSL routers. Or even from some SEO ranking tools.
It also says that it has seen an increase in malware being installed on computers that perform these types of automated queries. This means that; if you ever get one of this reCAPTCHAs, you simply need to verify yourself. By entering the characters to continue searching.
But, you may also want to scan your computer for viruses and malware. And as I will explain later on, all these processes are powered by a set of automated internet rules called bots.
What are Bots?
Bots are automated software applications that are programmed to help in certain computerized tasks. And since bots are automated, they run according to a set of instructions without a human user needing to start them up.
Bots often imitate or replace a human user’s behavior while operating over a network. Typically, they do repetitive tasks, and they can do them much faster than human users could. More than half of the internet traffic is bots scanning content. While at the same time, interacting with website pages, chatting with users, or looking for attack targets.
It’s important to realize, some bots are “good” or “useful.“. Such as search engine bots that index content for search or customer service bots that help users. On the other hand, some bots can also be termed as “bad.” Simply, because they are programmed to break into user accounts and even scan the web for contact information for sending spam.
At times, the bad bots perform other unwanted malicious activities. For instance, if it’s connected to the Internet, a bot will have an associated IP address.
There are Tons of Bots out there!
Out there, there’re so many bots, with so many different reasons to exist. And the context that’s used to discuss them can vary wildly. Some people are focused on the utopian possibilities of bots. While others are focused entirely on all the bad stuff bots can do.
You’ve probably encountered one on Facebook Messenger, a retail website, or on Tinder. And sorry to break it to you, but that extremely-out-of-your-league model you matched with that’s interested in knowing your mother’s maiden name likely isn’t real.
The most common Bots are:
- Chatbots: These are bots that simulate human conversation by responding to certain phrases with programmed responses.
- Web crawlers (Googlebots): Unified bots that scan content on webpages all over the Internet.
- Socialbots: They type of bots that operate on social media platforms.
- Maliciousbots: These are bots that scrape content, spread spam content, or carry out credential stuffing attacks.
As you probably know, interactions with bots don’t feel as mechanical as you might think.
Other bots keep the internet running smoothly. Below are more examples of good bots that you should know about;
Crawler bots like Googlebot help a search engine like Google decide what to display next. When in that case, you can frantically search for anything like “How to tell if a dog ate AirPods” at midnight on a Tuesday.
In other words, Googlebots are Google’s web crawling bot (sometimes also called a “spider”) that uses an algorithmic process. Computer programs determine which sites to crawl, how often, and how many pages to fetch from each site. The Googlebots crawl process begins with a list of webpage URLs.
These webpage URLs are generated from previous crawl processes and augmented with Sitemap data provided by webmasters. As Googlebot visits each of these websites it detects links (SRC and HREF) on each page and adds them to its list of pages to crawl.
New sites, changes to existing sites, and dead links are noted and used to update the Google index.
2. Feedfetcher, Monitoring & Aggregator Bots
Google Feedfetcher is used by Google to grab RSS or Atom feeds when users choose to add them to their Google homepage or Google Reader.
The Feedfetcher collects and periodically refreshes these user-initiated feeds. But does not index them in blog search or Google’s other search services. Site feeds (like jmexclusives site feed) appears in the search results only if it has been crawled by Googlebot.
Monitoring bots, well, monitor things, like whether Twitter is down and your soul is finally free. Aggregator bots keep your RSS feeds filled with piping hot takes about whatever Donald Trump tweeted that day.
3. Baiduspider, Yandex Bot & Soso Spider
Baiduspider is a robot of the Baidu Chinese search engine. Baidu (Chinese: 百度; pinyin: Bǎidù) is the leading Chinese search engine for websites, audio files, and images.
Yandex Bot is the Yandex search engine crawler. Yandex is a Russian Internet company which operates the largest search engine in Russia with about 60% market share in that country. It ranked as the fifth-largest search engine worldwide. With more than 150 million searches per day as of April 2012 and more than 25.5 million visitors.
Soso Spider is a Chinese search engine owned by Tencent Holdings Limited, which is well known for its other creation QQ. As of 13 May 2012, Soso.com is ranked as the 36th most visited website in the world and the 13th most visited website in China, according to Alexa Internet. On average, Soso.com gets 21,064,490 page views every day.
3. Exabot & Msnbot/Bingbot
MSN Bot or Msnbot retired in October 2010 and rebranded as Bingbot. This is a web-crawling robot (a type of Internet bot), deployed by Microsoft to supply Bing (search engine). It collects documents from the web to build a searchable index for the Bing (search engine).
4. Sogou Spider & Google Plus Share
Sogou Spider or rather, Sogou.com is a Chinese search engine. It was launched on August 4, 2004. As of April 2010, it has a rank of 121 in the Alexa internet rankings. Sogou provides an index of up to 10 billion web pages.
Share a post on Currents or Google Plus Share lets you share recommendations with friends, contacts, and the rest of the web – on Google search. The +1 button helps initialize Google’s instant share capabilities, and it also provides a way to give something your public stamp of approval.
5. Facebook External Hit
Facebook External Hit allows its users to send links to interesting web content to other Facebook users.
Part of how this works on the Facebook system involves the temporary display of certain images or details related to the web content, such as the title of the webpage or the embed tag of a video. The Facebook system retrieves this information only after a user provides a link.
What is Bot-like Activity?
Though there are many types of bots, “bot-like activity” is typically used only in reference to Twitter. Retweeting things hundreds of times a day, spamming the same link repeatedly. And using multiple accounts to amplify the same message. These are all good indicators of bot-like activity, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the account is a bot.
Even Twitter gets confused sometimes. Earlier this year, a group of Trump-loving grannies ran into trouble. Simply, because they spent up to 14 hours a day tweeting about the president and his allies. Some retweeted content from the same handful of other accounts over 500 times a day at all hours for months on end.
In the end, this flooded their followers’ feeds with a stream of seemingly automated activity. Twitter decided they were bots and kicked them off the service. Yet the women were very real humans.
What is a Malicious Bot activity?
Any automated actions by a bot that violate a website owner’s intentions, the site’s Terms of Service, or the site’s Robots.txt rules for bot behavior can be considered malicious. Bots that attempt to carry out cybercrime. Such as identity theft or account takeover, which are also “bad” bots.
While some of these activities are illegal, bots do not have to break any laws to be considered malicious. In addition, excessive bot traffic can overwhelm a web server’s resources. Slowing or even stopping service for the legitimate human users trying to use a website or an application.
Sometimes this is intentional and takes the form of a DoS or DDoS attack.
Examples of malicious bots activity include:
- Credential stuffing
- Web/content scraping
- DoS or DDoS attacks
- Brute force password cracking
- Inventory hoarding
- Spam content
- Email address harvesting
- Click fraud
To carry out these attacks and disguise the source of the attack traffic, bad bots may be distributed in a botnet. Meaning that copies of the bot are running on multiple devices.
And more often, without the knowledge of the device owners. But, since each device has its own IP address, botnet traffic comes from tons of different IP addresses. This makes it more difficult to identify and block the source of the malicious bot traffic.
How To Stop Malicious Bots Activity
Of course, you may have stumbled on a question that Twitter itself can’t quite figure out. Technically speaking, bots are automated programs designed to perform a specific task.
Like tweet every new word that appears on jmexclusives. Sometimes even, colorize black and white photos on Reddit, or connect you with a customer service agent. There are bad ones, good ones, and countless more in between. Bots are often associated with sites like Twitter, but there are many other types.
On one hand, bot management solutions are able to sort out harmful bot activity. Especially from user activity and helpful bot activity via machine learning. While on the other hand, Cloudflare bot management stops malicious behavior. Without impacting the user experience or blocking good bots.
Bot management solutions should be able to identify and block malicious bots. Based on behavioral analysis that detects anomalies and still allows helpful bots to access web properties.
According to Wikipedia, a sample scenario of the genesis of bots is dated back in 1963. A rudimentary chatbot dubbed ELIZA won users over despite laughably basic canned responses for a therapy-like messaging service. ELIZA mostly just turned users’ statements into questions.
It based on a number of keywords, for example, “I am unhappy,” “Can you explain what made you unhappy?” And would then revert to blanket statements like “I see” or “Please go on” anytime it got confused. Yet, people cited feeling an emotional connection with the bot.
Since then, chatbots (a computer program designed to simulate human conversation) have come a long way. But most still operate using some combination of machine learning and set scripts. Particularly, Google reCAPTCHA keys v3 are built for security.
Armed with state of the art technology, reCAPTCHA is always at the forefront of spam and abuse fighting trends. So, it can provide you an unparalleled view of abusive traffic on your site. Purposefully designed and actively aware, reCAPTCHA knows when to be easy on people and hard on bots.
So, are bots bad or not?
Most things, really. Much like trolls or fake news, the term “bot” has lost much of its actual meaning, becoming a vague tech-adjacent buzzword. This is especially true in the case of the so-called propaganda bot, which has morphed into a catchall term for a Scary Fake Account With A Specific Purpose.
There are countless “bot trackers” and dashboards out there that claim to show what the big bad bots are up to on sites like Twitter. Most aren’t tracking bots per se, but rather accounts associated with known groups of bad actors. Like on the Russian Internet Research Agency, or accounts exhibiting “bot-like activity.”
Bots are having a bit of an image problem right now. Sure, some bots aren’t great, but most range from innocuous to delightful.
Twitter is full of purposefully good (and sometimes even pretty funny) bots. There’s a bot that replaces the word “blockchain” in headlines with “Beyoncé.” And another one that shares surreal memes from Reddit. Also, there is one that just tweets out random verbs followed by the phrase “me daddy.”
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Finally, with the space that bots exist in being so large, it can be challenging to get your head around all the different things that people can mean when they refer generally to “bots.”
Yes, there are bad people out there who create virtual mountains of spam. And even worse people who break the law, and sometimes they use bots. But, the promise of bots as agents for good, in the form of gained productivity and new business opportunities, is also tremendous.
As an addon, you can read and learn more about all the different varieties of bots, and what they can do for you here. As well as how to Transform Customer Service Engagement with Chatbots.