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Good bots, bad bots, part I

They’ve been around for decades!

What are bots?

Bots (AKA chatbots–like SIRI and other virtual agents) are increasingly effective artificial intelligence (AI) supported software that helps automate tasks. This includes a wide range of things like updating your calendar, getting answers to spoken questions, shopping, data collection and website scanning. Web spidering, which retrieves, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed and efficiency of humans, is the most common kind of bot. Research shows that until recently, bots generated even more website traffic than us humans, with a modest tapering off last year.

Bots and apps perform different if overlapping functions. Bots, however, are dedicated to single functions. There’s nothing new about internet bots (short for robots). They’ve been around for decades.

So, why are we hearing so much about them now? Cost savings for businesses and individual users are driving Microsoft, Google, Slack, Kik, and soon, Facebook, to create more bots to complete highly repetitive, routine tasks. Accelerating this momentum, consumers are demanding quicker access to information and faster customer service, both of which are provided by bots. Though bots can’t yet fully replicate human customer support dialogue, they are virtually invisible in other areas.

Good bots, bad bots

Good bots include the ones described above–owned by legitimate businesses to automate tasks for the benefit of users. Bad bots, by contrast, create havoc by automating spam campaigns, denial of service (DDoS) attacks or launch vulnerability scans to do even broader damage. Unfortunately, there has been a relative decrease in the percentage of good bot activity, with bad bot traffic fluctuating around 30%. That said, the overall amount of bot and human traffic continually increases.

Bad bots are morphing

Bad bots are disseminated by individual, small and larger criminal groups. They continue to grow in direct relationship with the world population of internet users (now over 3 billion). “Impersonator” software, discussed in previous OWDT posts, is the fastest growing category. The vast majority of security events are the result of bad bot incursions.

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