If you use the Internet somewhat regularly, you’ve likely encountered a bot (or several!) at some point, perhaps without even realizing it. If you haven’t, you’re an anomaly because bots are all over the Internet. Literally everywhere. In 2020, bot traffic accounted for nearly 40% of all Internet traffic. They’ll often have their own IP address and everything.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a second to define what a bot actually is.
A bot is an automated software application programmed to carry out specific, often repetitive tasks without the aid of humans. Typically the work a bot carries out is relatively simple, but they can do it at a much higher rate than us mere mortals. They can even mimic human behavior, sometimes for good purposes (e.g., customer service) and occasionally for malicious ones (spambots). According to Imperva’s 2020 Bad Bot Report, bad bot traffic is at its highest ever at 24.4%, while good bots make up 13.1%.
Let’s look a little closer at the difference between good bots and bad bots and how you can spot them in the wild.
Chatbots: One type of bot you’ve likely encountered in your web surfing travels is this one. From customer service chats to virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, chat bots have varying levels of complexity. Alexa and Siri use artificial intelligence to communicate in a more sophisticated manner, whereas a customer service chat bot uses pre-set data and machine learning to latch on to key phrases in your message and respond accordingly (although, not always successfully…).
Crawler bots: This type of bot operates behind the scenes, traveling from website to website via hyperlinks to index various kinds of information for search engine optimization purposes.
Website monitor bots: This bot will monitor your website and alert you if it encounters any issues such as slow page speeds or downtime.
Social bots: Less sophisticated than chat bots, social bots are often used to create fake accounts to follow specific users, promote and “like” posts, or to make posts on their own accounts in order to propagate and spread certain ideas and outlooks. Social bots were a big part of the conversation surrounding fake news and the US 2016 general election.
Content scraping bots: These bots travel from website to website, “scraping” (AKA stealing) content. A scraping bot can download all the content of a website in a matter of seconds, posting it on another site to steal organic traffic from the original owner.
DDoS attacks: When a bunch of bots (known as a botnet) get together, they can flood servers with fake traffic and take down entire websites. Read more about DDoS attacks here.
Spam bots: This is likely a bot you’ve encountered at some point as well. This type of bots either create fake accounts or take over real accounts on forums, blogs, and social media sites to flood comments sections with (usually) nonsensical, irrelevant comments featuring malicious links, unwanted ads, and even malware downloads.
Ad fraud bots: These bots are programmed to do things like repeatedly load webpages to generate ad false impressions or repeatedly click on pay-per-click ads. These bots are usually directed to fake websites with scraped content and no human audience to generate income from advertisers.
Bots make up a huge chunk of the Internet landscape, for good and ill. While some bots are helpful, amusing, or just plain silly, others could lead to scams, malware downloads, or hurt your website. Ensure your site is protected by implementing CAPTCHA for outdated servers and browsers, monitoring traffic sources, and taking note of suspicious spikes on traffic or login attempts. Check out this article for more information.