Don’t be fooled by Bots

20 November 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Don’t be fooled by Bots

Recently I received a few emails with comments about my blog articles. At first glance all emails looked like they contained genuine content, but shortly after I decided that they sounded a bit too generic for my liking so I googled the email address from which the comments were ‘apparently’ sent and came across the BotScout website, which confirmed my suspicion that the blog comments were sent by Internet bots. Interested in what bots are and how they operate, I decided to investigate this matter a bit further and in the process I found out the following…

Basically, bots (also known as web robots, www robots or simply bots) are automated web scripts which perform structurally repetitive tasks on the Internet at a much higher rate than a human would do. For example, bots are often used to register on forums, pollute databases, spread spam, and abuse forms on websites. More malicious bots are used to coordinate and operate an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Jeremy Linden, a researcher at Arbor Networks, believes that almost every major crime problem on the Internet can be traced to bots, for example bots are often used to monitor keystrokes to collect passwords and other sensitive data for identity theft and credit card fraud. While David Dagon, a PhD student from Georgia Tech, says that networks of bots distribute as much as 90% of all junk emails (see “Wired” for more details).

A standard procedure for protecting yourself from unauthorised intrusion is to firewall your network and use antivirus programs. Unfortunately, bots have the capacity to infiltrate even protected computers and they can even pose a bigger threat than virulent malware such as the famously destructive ‘Melissa’, ‘I Love You’, and ‘Slammer’ viruses.

But bots are not always bad. In fact, they are commonly used to play games, report weather, provide zip-code information and sports scores, convert currency or other units and manage Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels such as AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. However, as one of “Wired” articles says “little by little the term is losing its neutrality, and the phrase malicious bot is becoming redundant”.

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