What’s a Bot?

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Bot. You’ve heard the term before, but you’re not quite sure what one is or what it does. Basically, a bot (short for web robot) is a program created to perform automated tasks faster than any human could. Like any tool, a bot may or may not be used for malicious purposes. In fact, there are some beneficial uses for bots as well.

Good Bots

Whether or not you realize it, you benefit from bots on a daily basis. The most prevalent beneficial use of bots is the spidering of web pages by a search engine. Google, Bing, Yahoo–they all have bots designed to visit web pages and extract information for inclusion into their search databases. Without the use of bots, search engines would simply not exist as they do today.

Another valid bot would be a chat bot. They’re the online equivalent of an automated phone system in that they’re programmed to interact with humans via text chat in what would appear to be an intelligent manner. Some companies use them as a way to provide automated chat support to their clients.

Bad Bots

Although there are good uses for bots, you typically only hear about the bad ones–bots designed to gather information for or perform illegal or unethical activities. In other words, spammers use a lot of spam bots. We recently talked about how spammers find your email address and how profitable they are as a result. Because of bots, they’re able to scan millions of web pages for email addresses in a fraction of the time it would take a human to do the same. This means low overhead, large volumes of email address and a whole lot of profit.

Bad bots can be used to do many different things in addition to harvesting email addresses, including:

  • Manipulation of online voting systems
  • Quickly purchasing limited-availability items, such as concert tickets, in order to charge a premium when resold
  • Vandalizing of a website
  • Creating unethical links to boost search engine rankings
  • Accessing private information
  • Spreading malicious code

All of these tasks can lead to a profitable situation for spammers, and automating the process allows for superhuman speed and efficiency.

OAC Technology, a Minneapolis-based IT company, has been working with bots for over 10 years and can help your business let the good bots in while keeping the bad bots out. Contact us today for a free security audit of your company’s network.

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