The term “bot” is frequently used when talking about online applications, but many people don’t know how they work and whether bots are good or bad. The word ‘Bot’ is any piece of software that performs automated, repetitive tasks. Usually, they carry out a job that would usually be done manually by humans. The benefit of bots is that they are much faster at completing tasks than humans, and they don’t require much management or overhead.
There are countless types of bots designed to perform all sorts of tasks. However, bots are used for malicious purposes too, such as launching automated attacks. Bot-driven automation is cheap, easy to use, and provides the scale necessary to generate large amounts of profit and make success viable when used for nefarious purposes.
It’s essential to understand how bots can interrupt the function of a website, scrape content, and commit online fraud. Having a bot mitigation strategy in place can help you improve your security posture.
The Good: Different Types of Useful Bots
Bots were initially created to automate tasks on our computers and online applications. Even though you may not realize it, bots are always running in the background, carrying out tasks and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. In fact, around half of all internet traffic is just bots going about their business. There are a number of different types of bots used for a variety of tasks. Keep in mind that the “good” bots can still be exploited and used by bad actors, so some of the good bots could be considered not so good or in the gray area.
Most people have come into contact with chatbots at some point. Many companies have them on their websites, and they are designed to provide a level of customer service by answering questions in a chat window. As technology improves, these bots will become more difficult to distinguish from a real person.
Businesses often use chatbots because they improve the user experience by quickly answering customer questions. They aren’t great at answering complex questions, but they can deal with a lot of basic queries that could otherwise take much more time to answer by a support representative.
The way we shop online is dictated by bots in a big way, even if you don’t realize it. Often, when you go on an eCommerce site, it will be personalized for you, showing products you are more likely to be interested in. They may also remember your browsing history and make suggestions for you. All of this is carried out by bots that monitor your online activity and then make changes to the site based on the collected information.
Shopping bots can also help find the best prices. Some great comparison sites use bots to scan a large number of websites and compare all of the prices, helping you find the best deal.
Web crawling bots
When you Google search, web crawling (sometimes called spider bots) bots get to work. Web crawlers scan websites looking for keywords and relevant content to determine which websites most likely interest the user. This is how the search results are ranked and categorized before they are displayed to you. Marketing professionals have a keen interest in these bots, and they are constantly trying to work out how to game the algorithms to make sure that the bots put their site at the top of the list.
Web scraping bots
Web scraping bots scan website content and save it offline so it can be reused in the future. In some cases, these bots catalog website content that they have permission to store, but they can also be used by threat actors or competitors for malicious purposes such as web scraping fraud by scraping prices, images, or other data to be fraudulently used.
Social media bots are a good example of a type of bot that operate in a gray area. They can be used to send out mass communications, but they can also mimic a person on social media through automatically sending messages and following people, as well as create fake accounts. In some cases, these are used for positive purposes, but social media bots can also spread misinformation or enact scams on unsuspecting users.
As social media platforms have become more aware of the potential dangers of social bots, they are putting defensive measures in place to identify and stop them.
Monitoring bots help websites identify maintenance issues. These bots will monitor the health of the system and then flag any problems. Some sites use these bots to let people know if a website is down or experiencing an issue. Monitoring bots are not just for websites; they can be used on various pieces of software to troubleshoot problems and keep the software running as it should.
It’s likely that you have benefitted from some of these bots, but there are also a lot of downright malicious bots out there that you need to watch out for.
The Bad: Different Types of Malicious Bots
As we mentioned, threat actors leverage bots to execute online fraud, steal personal information, and attack websites. Fortunately, bot detection and mitigation solutions can help you prevent automated threats, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with various types of bad bots that could potentially cause damage to your online business.
Credential stuffing bots
Credential stuffing is one of the most common automated threats used by fraudsters to takeover personal user accounts. Credential stuffing bots will automatically input known usernames and passwords that have been leaked from a data breach or purchased on the dark web until they are able to get into the account. Successful credential stuffing is often a direct result of reusing usernames and passwords across multiple account types.
These malicious bots can lead to account lockouts, financial fraud, and an increase in customer complaints and therefore a negative impact on brand reputation.
Click fraud bots
Click fraud bots scan websites and repeatedly click on paid ads, costing organizations a lot of money. Click fraud can eat up the majority of an advertiser’s marketing budget. Without a good bot detection system in place, this can go undetected and be incredibly damaging for businesses.
All of those annoying spam emails you get probably come from bots. Spam bots will scan contact and guestbook pages online to harvest emails. They will then automatically send out huge numbers of spam emails to all of their collected addresses. Spam bots can also be used to fill forms, send out SMS or text messages, and post promotional content in forums to boost traffic to certain websites.
A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack can completely shut down a website by bombarding it with huge amounts of traffic that it cannot handle. Bots are used to constantly attempt to connect to the website until it crashes completely. An application DDoS leverages bots to issue targeted application requests that appear legitimate, such as search queries and other computationally expensive tasks, making them exceptionally tricky to detect and stop. DDoS is one of the most common forms of cyber attack that there is, and it can seriously disrupt business operations.
Denial of inventory bots
Bots can be used to carry out denial of inventory attacks on eCommerce sites. The bots will keep adding products to their basket without completing the transaction in order to prevent legitamite customers from purchasing the product. Then, when a genuine user attempts to buy the product, it will look as if it is out of stock, even if it isn’t. When these kinds of attacks go unnoticed for a while, they can cause a massive loss in eCommerce sales.
The Ugly: Malicious Bots that Mimic Human Behavior
While there are endless types of malicious bots, there is also a varying degree of sophistication. The more motivated the bot operator and the more valuable the target, the more likely they are to use open-source developer testing frameworks and stealth plugins that fly under the radar of detection systems by looking and acting like humans. Bots can look like humans by hiding behind residential proxy networks, so their traffic blends in with normal traffic with legitimate IP addresses. In addition, bots can act like humans by replaying human movements such as mouse clicks.
Examples of the open-source DevTools bot operators use to script their malicious automation include Puppeteer and Playwright. Bot builders use these tools to develop bots that can bypass anti-bot systems. For example, Puppeteer Extra Stealth has enabled many automated attacks to evade traditional bot mitigation solutions. Bot operators have designed advanced scripts, built-in advanced code improvements, and CAPTCHA defeating modules that cannot be detected by many bot management technologies.
How to Protect Your Organization from Malicious Bots
Having a good understanding of the types of bots that target your online business help you effectively protect your organization against automated threats. Using superior bot mitigation from a provider like Kasada enables you to focus on innovation while the bot mitigation partner keeps bad bots out while allowing good bots to do their jobs.
Next-generation bot mitigation solutions effectively detect and stop the most sophisticated bad bots. For example, web scraping is especially difficult to defend against, as it requires detection on the very first request before the scraper bot can receive what it’s looking for. On the other hand, denial of inventory bots require a massive scale to support hype sales.
Kasada stops advanced persistent bots by identifying the presence of automation whenever they interact with your websites, apps, and APIs rather than using outdated detection methods that must let bots into your infrastructure first to identify bad behavior and rely on knowledge of bad IP addresses.
Kasada bot defense deters bot operators from coming back by slowing down their development, iteration, testing, and compute cycles – while making attacks too expensive to conduct at scale using methods such as increasingly complex cryptographic proof-of-work challenges.
Implementing modern bot detection and mitigation has a material financial impact on your business. In addition to the security impact of real-time protection from automated threats, eliminating bad bot traffic directly impacts your bottom line by improving website conversions, significantly reducing unnecessary infrastructure and operating costs, and providing a frictionless customer experience.