It is estimated that around 30% of the total internet traffic comes from bots, and more than half are bad bots.
Due to their involvements in so many cyber crimes and attack vectors, bots—or to be more exact, internet bots—have gained notoriety in the past decade and the term ‘bot’ has become something of a dirty word when discussing the internet.
However, bots are essentially only a tool, and they are neither good nor bad. Yes, there are malicious bots used by hackers to perform various cybersecurity attacks, but there are also good bots, owned by reputable companies like Google or Facebook, that perform beneficial tasks both for the websites and their users.
Here, we will discuss all you need to know about good bots VS bad bots and how they impact your website. Yet, let us start from the very beginning: what actually are internet bots?
What Are Bots?
Internet robots, or just bots, are software or programs that are programmed to perform automated tasks over an internet connection.
Typically, the tasks these bots performed are simple and repetitive. What makes these bots so useful as a tool is that they can perform these repetitive tasks at a much faster speed than any human ever could.
For example, the average human user can read a 1,000-word article in around 8 minutes, and if they want to re-type it, it will take much longer, but a bot can scan tens of thousands of words in just a matter of seconds.
So, in its basic nature, the bots are just tools to perform automated and typically repetitive tasks, and they are neither good nor bad. What kinds of tasks they are programmed to perform and their objectives are what determine whether a bot is good or bad, as we will discuss below.
Good Bots VS Bad Bots
As discussed, we consider a bot ‘good’ if it performs a beneficial task without any malicious intent. Good bots are typically owned by reputable companies (at least, even if it’s not a big company, the identity of the owner is known). Good bots won’t hide their presences and will follow rules and policies, for example, rules set in your website’s robots.txt file.
Here are some common types of good bots and the tasks they perform:
Search Engine Bots
For example, Googlebot and Bingbot.
As the name suggests, these bots’ main task is to crawl various websites on the internet and index the content of the website. Based on what’s crawled and indexed by these bots, the search engines will then determine the web site’s ranking on their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Bots that are designed to collect data and provide real-time information on things like currency rates, weather, news, and so on. Content aggregator sites, your smartphone’s weather app, and other similar services may operate this type of bots.
Bots that crawl websites, social media profiles, and other platforms looking for content that may violate copyright law. Typically operated by companies or individuals who own rights to copyrighted materials. YouTube’s copyright bot is a good example of copyright bots.
These bots are designed to ‘chat’ with human visitors by imitating human conversations. They can answer users with pre-programmed responses and may also use AI technologies to provide complex answers.
Bots designed to monitor website metrics, for example, monitoring outages, number of traffic, backlinks, and so on. Various analytics services operate this type of good bots.
Opposite to good bots, bad bots or malicious bots are programmed to perform tasks with malicious objectives. They typically will hide their identities while utilizing various technologies, for example using proxies to rotate between hundreds of different IP addresses per minute. Nowadays bot programmers may also employ AI technologies so the bot can impersonate human behaviors, making detection more difficult.
Below are some common types of bad bots and their tasks:
Content Scraping Bots
In principle, content scraper bots perform the same task as crawler bots (i.e. search engine bots): crawling a website and scanning its content. However, when these bots used the scanned (scraped) content for malicious intent, for example, to copy and publish the content on another website, we can categorize this bot as malicious. For content or essay writing there is another way to use Essay writing service UK.
Account Takeover (ATO) Bots:
These bots are designed to perform account takeover (ATO) attacks like brute force attacks and credential stuffing attacks. In a credential stuffing attack, the bot can attempt a user credential on hundreds if not thousands of websites in just a matter of minutes. They can also attempt thousands of password combinations per second when performing brute force attacks.
Bots can automatically send spam emails containing fraudulent links, spam a website’s blog comment section, post automated messages in forums and social media, and so on. Spambots can be used on a large scale to generate fake reviews to destroy a company’s/product’s reputation and even launch political propaganda.
Click/Ad Fraud Bots
As the name suggests, these bots click on an ad to boost the ad revenue for the website, while at the same time increasing the cost for advertisers. Can be deployed by hackers looking for profits from ad revenue, but also by your competitors looking to deliberately increase your advertising costs.
Effectively Managing Bad Bots
Due to the presence of both good bots and bad bots, it’s important not to indiscriminately block all bot traffic.
We wouldn’t want to accidentally block these good bots from accessing our site, which will translate into blocking their benefits, and at the same time, we wouldn’t want to accidentally block legitimate human users, which can translate into a loss of revenue.
If we block all bots, it can lead to low search engine visibility or your website might not be ranked at all by Google and other search engines, among other disadvantages. It’s very important to have a solution in place that can differentiate between good bots and bad bots, and properly manage only the bad bots.
On the other hand, blocking the bot will not stop a persistent attacker. They will simply modify their bots and can use the information provided by your site (i.e. your error message when blocking the bot) to bypass your security measures. As a result, it will be even harder to detect and manage this bot.
Due to the sophistication of today’s shopping bots, a bot management solution that is capable of behavioral-based detection is recommended. DataDome, for example, is an affordable botnet protection solution that uses AI and machine learning technologies to analyze the traffic’s behavior and can mitigate malicious bot activities in real-time.
Malicious bots are becoming more sophisticated than ever before, and on the other hand, we can no longer rely on traditional solutions like CAPTCHAs due to the presence of CAPTCHA farms and other malicious techniques. Having the right approach in managing only the malicious bots is very important: we should aim to avoid false positives and accidentally block legitimate users and good bots while at the same time ensuring our site’s security from being exploited by malicious bots.