Internet robots, also called bots, crawlers, and spiders, are not new – although they have been in the news more and more lately. Bots were initially developed to perform repetitive digital tasks, such as indexing a search engine. However, not unlike many other kinds of digital technology, cybercriminals found a way to leverage them by turning them into malware and using them to gain control over a computer.

The Good Side of Bots
Bots do serve a very useful purpose when they are used as an information gathering tool. Typically, they are called “web crawlers” and are at the heart of whichever search engine you use. Bots are also employed in automated interaction tools, such as instant messaging and chat boards.

The Bad Side of Bots
Along with the good, of course, comes the bad. Malware, self-propagating software that infects its host, are a form of bot. Malware bots typically connect a host (your computer) to a remote server, which then controls the bot and directs it to do the cyber-criminal’s bidding. When working in unison with other bots that are also being manipulated by a server, they are referred to as a “botnet”. Because they are built to propagate, once released they may be used to automatically perform a variety of malicious activities without continual input from the developer. They may be used to do things such as:

• Gather passwords
• Log keystrokes
• Launch Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks
• Obtain financial information
• Open back doors on the infected computer

Malicious bots often easily go unnoticed. More often than not, they hide in plain sight and mimic the original file names and locations within an operating system.

How to Tell If You’ve Been Infected with a Bot
There are some pretty telling ways to gauge whether or not you’ve been infected with a malicious bot:

• Internet access and some installed programs run slow for no apparent reason.
• The computer crashes for no apparent reason.
• The fan goes into overdrive when the device is idle.
• The computer takes a long time to shut down, or fails to shut down correctly.
• Friends and family receive email messages you did not send.
• Computer programs are running slowly.
• The browser features components you didn’t download.

Protection from Bots
As bots become increasingly complex, and as our reliance on computers and internet connections increases, it also becomes harder to avoid malicious bots. However, there are a number of common-sense steps that you may take to greatly decrease the possibility of your computer becoming infected:

• Use a long and complicated password that contains numbers and symbols.
• Never use the same password for multiple programs.
• Install firewalls to block malicious attacks and never turn them off.
• Install recommended anti-malware software.
• Ensure software is up to date, and never ignore system updates.
• Refrain from using flash drives, or thumb drives, in an infected computer.

For more information on how a managed network service can proactively keep bots from infecting your network, please contact us.