What is a bot?

A bot is an automated piece of software that performs predefined assignments, usually over a network.

Just like the fictional bots you may have grown up watching on TV, there are good bots and bad bots in computing. Though neither side is waging an endless war on the other or can transform into trucks and jets, bot are a significant part of our lives in the digital age. While some improve the quality of the Internet, others can be dangerous.

What does bot mean?

As you probably guessed, the term ‘bot’ is short for the word robot. Here is a bot definition: a bot is an automated piece of software that performs predefined assignments, usually over a network. We use bots for the same reason we use machines in factories: efficiency. A bot can perform monotonous responsibilities quicker and better than a human being over a long period. They are so useful that some estimates indicate that over 50% of web traffic is just bots doing tasks.

What is an example of a bot?

The sheer variety of bots on the Internet is impressive. As mentioned above, there are good bots and bad bots out there. Here are some common examples of both:

Good bots

  • Knowledge chatbot: Websites, apps, and more use chatbots for a less labor-intensive way to answer queries, direct users, and process tasks.
  • Transactional chatbot: A transactional chatbot helps people complete transactions within the context of their conversations with a chatbot.
  • Shopping bot: A shopping bot helps buyers find the best deals online by scanning many web pages for the same product.
  • Web crawler: Also known as a spider bot, a web crawler is an unsung superhero for search engines. It indexes website content to improve search engine results.
  • Bot monitor: This automation manages different strategies inside a bot.
  • Knowbot: A knowbot automatically collects certain information from websites.
  • Web scraping bot: A web scraping bot scans and saves website content to allow users to read it offline or replicate it elsewhere. Web scraping bots can be good or bad, depending on a site’s rules for its content, so let’s call this one a grey bot.

Bad Bots

  • Social bots: Also known as a troll bot, a social bot manipulates conversations or opinions on social media. It may post messages, promote thoughts, or follow accounts.
  • Download bots: Marketing teams use download bots to automatically download software to boost download numbers and help an application rank higher artificially. Hackers may also use download bots at the beginning of a DoS (Denial of Service) attack. 
  • Ticketing bots: Scalpers use ticketing bots to buy tickets to resell them later for a profit. Ticketing bots are a significant reason you can find tickets for your favorite concert at a reasonable price.
  • Scalper bots: A scalper bot is nearly identical to ticketing bots but helps scalpers buy hot items like video game consoles, video game cards, or even the latest sneakers. Cryptominers also use scalper bots to buy cutting-edge computer hardware, sometimes leading to scarcity.

Malicious bots

Now that you know about good and bad bots, you should learn about malicious bots. These bots serve such malicious goals that they make bad bots look tame by comparison. Here’s a quick malicious bot definition: A malicious bot is an automated malware program that can infect a system, steal data, or commit other fraudulent activities. Here are some common examples of malicious bots:

  • Malicious chatterbots:  A malicious chatterbot can hit message boards, chat rooms, apps, and websites with spam and advertising. It can also simulate human speech to trick people into sharing sensitive information such as credit card numbers, financial data, or login credentials.
  • Spambots: These bots will infect your system and harvest it for contact information to send spam messages.
  • DoS bots: Cybercriminals infect computers and smart devices with bots to form a botnet. With a botnet — a threat actor can commit identity theft, spread malware and spam, overload a website with traffic to prevent it from functioning correctly, or take down online platforms. Cybercriminals use DoS attacks against websites for ideological reasons or extortion.
  • Click Bot: Click bots help cybercriminals defraud advertisers or trick websites by clicking on ads, buttons, or other hyperlinks. Besides ad fraud, click bots may help a bad actor influence an online poll or fake traffic numbers.

More questions about bots

Is a bot a real person?

No. A bot is not a real person. A bot is software that has been developed to do specific tasks, and this can include chatting with you as if they were a real person. 

Can a bot text you?

SMS text bots can send you texts. Not replying to them will not hurt their feelings, though. See the answer to the last question for why.

How can you tell if someone is a bot on social media?

Whether it’s a chatbot or a social media bot, the easiest way to tell if you’re talking to a bot is to ask a random question. For example, programmers usually don’t design bots to respond to queries like: “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” You can also look out for repetitive language or speech that doesn’t feel completely human. Additionally, check out their profile for generic pictures, links, bios, and followers that seem like bots too.

Is Google a bot?  

No, Google is not a bot. It's a search engine. But Google does use a web crawler. The name for Google's bot is, fittingly, Googlebot.

How do I stop malicious bots?

Use Malwarebytes Premium to scan for and stop bots like Backdoor.Bot that can make your system part of a botnet. You can read up on some facts about botnets to learn how to stop them. Finally, be sure to keep your system up to date so that you have the latest in any security patches that are available. 

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