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An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering (web crawler), in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human.
Given the exceptional speed with which bots can perform their relatively simple routines, bots may also be implemented where a response speed faster than that of humans is required. Common examples including gaming bots, whereby a player achieves a significant advantage by implementing some repetitive routine with the use of a bot rather than manually, or auction-site robots, where last-minute bid-placing speed may determine who places the winning bid – using a bot to place counterbids affords a significant advantage over bids placed manually.
Bots are routinely used on the internet where the emulation of human activity is required, for example chat bots. A simple question and answer exchange online may appear to be with another person, when in fact it is simply with a bot.
While bots are often used to simply automate a repetitive online interaction, their ability to mimic actual human conversation and avoid detection has resulted in the use of bots as tools of covert manipulation. On the internet today bots are used to artificially alter, disrupt or even silence legitimate online conversations. Bots are sometimes implemented, for example, to overwhelm the discussion of some topic which the bot's creator wishes to silence. The bot may achieve this by drowning out a legitimate conversation with repetitive bot-placed posts which may in some cases appear to be reasonable and relevant, in others simply unrelated or nonsense chatter, or alternatively by overwhelming the target website's server with constant, repetitive, pointless bot-placed posts. These bots play an important role in modifying, confusing and silencing conversations about, and the dissemination of, real information regarding sensitive events around the world.
The success of bots may be largely due to the very real difficulty in identifying the difference between an online interaction with a bot versus a live human. Given that bots are relatively simple to create and implement, they are a very powerful tool with the potential to influence every segment of the World Wide Web.
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a
robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot interacting with (or 'spidering') any server that does not follow these rules should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary – in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents.
IM and IRC
Some bots communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. These chatterbots may allow people to ask questions in plain English and then formulate a proper response. These bots can often handle many tasks, including reporting weather, zip-code information, sports scores, converting currency or other units, etc. Others are used for entertainment, such as SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.
An additional role of IRC bots may be to lurk in the background of a conversation channel, commenting on certain phrases uttered by the participants (based on pattern matching). This is sometimes used as a help service for new users, or for censorship of profanity.
AOL Instant Messenger has now[when?] introduced a feature that allows you to make a screen name into a bot. This new feature removes the rate limit on the screen name, however it is now limited in the amount of instant messages that can be sent and received.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots they launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers through which Betfair can actively manage bot interactions.
Another, more malicious use of bots is the coordination and operation of an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Internet bots can also be used to commit click fraud and more recently have seen usage around MMORPG games as computer game bots. A spambot is an internet bot that attempts to spam large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links.
- There are malicious bots (and botnets) of the following types:
- Spambots that harvest email addresses from contact or guestbook pages
- Downloader programs that suck bandwidth by downloading entire web sites
- Website scrapers that grab the content of websites and re-use it without permission on automatically generated doorway pages
- Viruses and worms
- DDoS attacks
- Botnets, zombie computers, etc.
- Bots are also used to buy up good seats for concerts, particularly by ticket brokers who resell the tickets. Bots are employed against entertainment event-ticketing sites. The bots are used by ticket brokers to unfairly obtain the best seats for themselves while depriving the general public from also having a chance to obtain the good seats. The bot runs through the purchase process and obtains better seats by pulling as many seats back as it can.
- Bots are often used in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games to farm for resources that would otherwise take significant time or effort to obtain; this is a concern for most online in-game economies.
- Bots are also used to increase views for YouTube videos.
- Bots are used to increase traffic counts on analytics reporting to extract money from advertisers. A study by comScore found that 54 percent of display ads shown in thousands of campaigns between May 2012 and February 2013 never appeared in front of a human being.
- in 2012, reporter Percy von Lipinski reported that he discovered millions of bot or botted or pinged views at CNN iReport. CNN iReport quietly removed millions of views from the account of so-called superstar iReporter Chris Morrow. It is not known if the ad revenue received by CNN from the fake views was ever returned to the advertisers.
- Bots may be used on internet forums to automatically post inflammatory or nonsensical posts to disrupt the forum and anger users.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
- Dunham, Ken; Melnick, Jim (2008). Malicious Bots: An Inside Look into the Cyber-Criminal Underground of the Internet. CRC Press. ISBN 9781420069068.
- "Touch Arcade Forum Discussion on fraud in the Top 25 Free Ranking".
- "App Store fake reviews: Here’s how they encourage your favourite developers to cheat". Electricpig.
- Holiday, Ryan. "Fake Traffic Means Real Paydays". BetaBeat.
- von Lipinski, Percy (28 May 2013). "CNN's iReport hit hard by pay-per-view scandal". PulsePoint. Retrieved 21 July 2016.