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Blog Post Oct 13, 2020

What Are Bots?

What is a bot? A bot is short for “internet robot”. Other names include spiders, web bots, and crawlers. Generally speaking, a bot is used to perform an automated, repetitive job online.

Thanks to the proliferation of automated social media accounts and the perceived impact that these accounts have on our daily lives, the word “bots” is thrown around quite a bit in a negative fashion.

And while there are negative uses of bots, not all bots are damaging. Some bots are useful and offer good services for those online.

Bots have been used for a very long time. Just like any tool online or off, a bot can be used for positive and negative purposes.

Positive uses for bots

Bots are often used to gather information. They may “scrape” data from sources to be used in other ways. In this case, we call them, “web crawlers.”

Search engines might be the most common use for bots. Google, for example, uses bots to inspect websites and pull data to be used in their search engine results. If you Google “plumbers near me” and you get a list of plumbers that are in your area, that’s thanks to a bot that pulled that information together for you and served it to Google.

Bots are also used for automatic interaction. Many web interfaces use bots for instant messaging. Often, you can start a chat with a customer service agent in the form of a bot, where the bot can parse out your question and serve you with answers pulled from their knowledgebase.

As you can see, these are very useful, convenient uses for bots.

Bots are used to...

Negative uses for bots

Like anything, there are those who wish to take advantage of this technology to cause harm.

Malicious bots are everywhere online. They attempt to connect to a website and collect information that it can send back to a central server – where the hacker has access to the information.

Bots have a worm-like ability to spread by themselves, which makes them very easy to deploy. Many bots assembled for one purpose can be networked together in a “botnet”.

These bots are used to:

  • Steal passwords
  • Log keystrokes and other web behavior
  • Capture financial information and other sensitive data
  • Send spam in high volumes
  • Launch DoS and DDoS attacks
  • Exploit vulnerabilities in websites

This is just a partial list of the bad activities that can be achieved with bots.

What is even worse is that bots have the ability to often go unnoticed. This is key to the success of a hacker. If the bots can sneak around in the “shadows” of a computer with file names and processes that blend into regular systems and processes (thereby avoiding drawing attention to themselves), then they can do thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to a network before they are even noticed.

How do I protect my website from bots?

Bots are targeting thousands of websites every single day – including yours.

If you want to make sure that bots are not deployed on your system, then you need to be proactive about keeping yourself safe:

  • Set up a firewall, like Sectigo Web Firewall that can keep a close eye on your traffic and sniff out malicious bots before they are able to infiltrate your server.
  • Use long and complicated passwords and change them regularly.
  • Keep your system up to date at all times to close off any potential vulnerabilities.

By taking simple steps like these, you are able to keep a layer of protection between your website and the bots traveling through the web, looking for fresh targets to infect.