Blog/Infosec 101/

What is a bot?

John Sears

John Sears


Nov 14, 2022


8 min read

Jump to section

Bots have become a central part of the modern internet landscape. These automated programs carry out a range of self-directed activities, often working on behalf of companies. Most people will have encountered bots when surfing online, possibly in a customer service capacity. But you should know more about bots than this one function.

Defining bots

A bot is a software application that has been programmed to carry out specific tasks. Bots are always automated, meaning that they do not require human interaction or monitoring. However, bots are frequently intended to imitate the behavior of humans, particularly in the customer service context mentioned previously.

Bots will also be deployed to complete repetitive tasks that would be onerous for humans or which computers can complete more efficiently. This process typically occurs over a network, meaning that a significant proportion of current Internet traffic consists of bot software. Such programs scan content, interact with web pages, chat with users, or in the case of malicious bots, seek attack targets. It is an important concept to note that not all bots are helpful or useful. We will discuss this point later in the article.

Types of bots

Any bots that are connected to the internet have associated IP addresses and can thus be identified at all times. Typically, the four categories of bots are as follows:

  • Chatbots, which simulate human conversation by responding to phrases with a series of programmed responses

  • Web crawlers that scan content on the internet

  • Social bots, which enter into conversations and provide information on social media platforms

  • Malicious bots that scrape content, spread spam, or carry out credential stuffing attacks


Chatbots communicate with internet users via instant messaging and Internet Relay Chat interfaces. This form of bot tends to ask simple questions and then formulate responses based on what users input. Chatbots are used across a range of platforms, particularly retail websites, but can also be used to report on weather, zip codes, sports scores, currencies, and other information.

These automated programs are essentially used to answer customer questions and have become a central part of the modern internet. Chatbots enable companies to save money on customer service representatives as well as members of staff to be employed in more engaging work.

Social Bots

Social networking bots are based on algorithms that help these programs establish services and connections among social media users. Considering some of the controversies associated with social media, social bots have occasionally become a contentious subject. For example, reports of political interference in recent elections have involved social bots, including for the 2016 US election and the 2017 UK General Election. At this time, concerns were raised by media about the way that bots were used to disseminate information.

Thus, not all data provided by bots is necessarily impartial or completely objective. This picture is further complicated when users of internet sites and other platforms do not even realize that they are interacting with a bot.

How do bots work?

Bots usually operate over networks, although some can utilize internet-based services. Most bots are composed of a set of algorithms, which enable them to carry out tasks. However, different types of bot use different modes of operation in order to perform their duties. For example, some bots are based on rules that they follow at all times, while others have machine learning capabilities. By utilizing machine learning, bots become more sophisticated and efficient over a period of time.

Primarily, bots offer an advantage over human operations in that they are faster than humans at repetitive tasks. This can save time for customers and clients as well as reducing labor costs. They're also available on a 24/7 basis and can reach large numbers of people simultaneously.

Conversely, bots are not particularly intelligent and cannot be optimized to perform certain tasks. Interaction with bots can also lead to misunderstanding. Furthermore, while bots are self-operating to a certain extent, humans still have to oversee them because they cannot generally be trusted to operate in isolation. Bots that are programmed to be malicious or used for spam purposes can also cause widespread difficulties.

Malicious bots

Speaking of malicious purposes, malware bots are one type of this automated technology that can cause wide-ranging problems. Hackers can program malware bots to break into user accounts, scan the internet for contact information, and send spam emails and other intrusive communications as well as perform other harmful actions.

In order to carry out these attacks, hackers often use botnets - networks of interconnected bots that disguise the source of the attack traffic. Botnets collect together internet-connected devices, each of which is running several bots, often without the knowledge of the device owner.

Malicious bots can take many forms and manifest in different ways, such as warnings indicating that your computer will become infected with a virus if you fail to click on an associated link. Such a scenario is a scam, and actually clicking on the link will do explicit damage, often infecting your computer with a virus. Malware bots continue to create problems and issues for organizations, not least because they can easily go unnoticed. Malicious bots are hidden within computer software, and often such processes are difficult to identify, even for programming and coding experts.

Bots can also be coordinated in order to conduct malicious attacks on networked computers. One of the most obvious examples of this malicious activity is denial-of-service attacks (DoS), which overwhelm networks and cause computing systems to crash. Internet bots can also be used to commit fraud and often appear within multiplayer online games.

Bots have become so prevalent within the contemporary internet that around 95% of websites have experienced some form of bot attack.

Common bot attacks

Several forms of attack are associated with malicious bots, and these are diverse in nature. It is important to be aware of these malicious bots because they can negatively impact your website and operations. Malicious bots can tarnish your brand reputation, impact online revenue, decrease operational efficiency, and increase the risk of data breaches. Familiarizing yourself with the attack techniques of malicious bots can therefore help prevent these issues.

Credential stuffing

Cybercriminals deploy bots armed with stolen usernames and passwords in order to target the sign-in pages of online accounts, such as banks and eCommerce websites – a process sometimes referred to as “credential stuffing.” These attacks can impact any organization with customer-facing login pages.

Credit card stuffing

In a credit card stuffing attack, bots test stolen credit or debit card information on merchant sites. When the purchases are successful and the cards are proven to be valid, the data can then be used to retrieve funds from the associated accounts or purchase gift cards that can be converted into cash. Again, this form of malicious bot is based on stealing private information.

Web scraping

Bots involved with web scraping, also sometimes referred to as web harvesting, essentially crawl web pages to steal information. The information they steal typically includes prices, curated content, product route reviews, and inventory data. The aim of web scraping is to capture and redirect customers to other websites. Essentially, bots that perform web scraping conduct a form of consumer fraud.

Denial of inventory

In a denial of inventory attack, fraudsters use automated bots to hold items in eCommerce baskets without completing sales. These attacks then prevent consumers from purchasing high-demand or limited-availability items, which can have a negative impact on the retail process.


One final use of malicious bots sees the software used to purchase high-demand and limited-availability items. In this context, bots are used to purchase occasionally available content, such as tickets to sporting events and concerts. The bots used in these attacks are often referred to as “sneaker bots.” Once an inventory has been liquidated by these bots, the criminals can then sell the merchandise via online auction sites.

How to detect bots

Bots can be difficult to detect without knowledge of how they operate. So it's important to be aware of some of the indicators of bot activity.

If you see a sudden and significant spike in traffic, it could indicate an attack by bots. Spikes are particularly significant when they occur during unusual times, such as when your target market would be expected to be asleep.

Bounce rate

High bounce rates are also a sign that bots are visiting your websites repeatedly and immediately leaving without checking out any of the other pages. An extremely high bounce rate may be a sign of a bot attack. If your website has been consistent in design over a period of time, an extremely high bounce can indicate issues with bots.

Traffic Sources

Any traffic that comes from a geographical area that you wouldn't usually deal with should be considered suspicious. Any such unusual traffic sources tend to indicate attacks by bots or networks of bots.

Server performance

Bot attacks can be coordinated to strain servers. Thus, if servers are underperforming, it may be an indication of a bot attack. Similarly, a large number of requests by bots can cause sites to malfunction in a similar way to distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). It's important to look out for this sort of activity because your networks and servers will slow down massively if they become infested with bots.

Suspicious IPs

If you receive traffic from Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that originate from suspicious geographical areas, you could be experiencing a bot attack. Keep your eye out for IP addresses that are outside of your target market or from regions that wouldn’t usually access your site.

Responding to bot infection

If your computer or network has already been infected by bots, it is important to protect your data. The following steps can help you to achieve this protection:

  • Step 1 – Disconnect your computer from the network as soon as possible. This will prevent attackers from stealing sensitive information. This action will also ensure that your computer cannot be used to attack other networks.

  • Step 2 – All important and personal data should be moved to another computer or external hard drive as quickly as possible. It's also important to ensure that these new destinations for your data are completely free of malware.

  • Step 3 – Carrying out a factory reset of your machine is advisable. This will not only target the problem with bots, but it will also remove files and programs that you have created, delete drivers, and return settings to their defaults. So you must be aware of these consequences before implementing this solution because you cannot easily restore these functions.

  • Step 4 – Clean your computer using security tools. While prevention is the best cure when it comes to bots, sometimes you have to utilize the cybersecurity protection mechanisms at your disposal.

How NordLocker protects against bots

One powerful way to protect yourself against bots is to utilize NordLocker. This potent file encryption software enables you to store sensitive data both in the cloud and on devices, ensuring that malicious bots cannot gain access to it. NordLocker also protects against malware and other threats, while there is no limit placed on the amount of data that you can store on devices. NordLocker is the perfect way to ensure that you eliminate the many problems associated with bots.

John Sears

John Sears

Verified author

John believes that the best things in life are simple. He uses the same approach when he’s writing about online security. John says that his #1 pet peeve is phishing scams. Ironically, his favorite non-work related activity is fishing.