Bots, short for Internet robots, are also known as spiders, crawlers, and web bots. Specifically, a bot is an application that performs an automated task such as telling you the weather or searching online.

Clothing retailer H&M operates a bot; you can see it here as does Amazon, National Geographic and many other organisations.  Search engine spiders that crawl the Internet looking for new web pages are also bots.

Bots can be very useful tools. However, for every silver lining there’s also a cloud. Bots can also be malware bots designed to gain control over a computer and harvest specific information like passwords, banking details and other personal data.

These malicious bots are essentially self-propagating; they are designed to infect large numbers of computers and then connect back to a central server set up by the malware bot creators. The server is a command and control centre for a botnet. A botnet is a network of compromised computers.

Some of the other things that bots are programmed to do include:
  • Capture user keystrokes to reveal sensitive information
  • Send out spam
  • Capture and analyse data packets
  • Launch distributed denial of service attacks to take down websites
  • Open back doors on infected computers so hackers can gain entry
  • Exploit back doors that have already been opened by viruses and worms

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Delivery methods

Bots, like other malware, is inadvertently downloaded onto a computer via email phishing messages that urge the recipient to click on a link or social media messages that try to get you to download an image or also click on a link.

Signs of infection

The signs that a computer may be infected by a bot are by and large similar to other malware infections with a few exceptions.

The general signs include:
  • A computer taking a long time to shut down or not shutting down properly
  • Internet access can be slow for no obvious reaso.
  • A computer crashes for no apparent reason
  • Computer programs run slowly
Specific to bots though, and indicators that a bot may be operating, are the following tell-tale signs:
  • Pop-up windows appear even when you aren’t using a web browser
  • Friends and family receive email messages from you that you didn’t send
  • Computer settings have changed and you can’t reverse them

Keeping it clean

Similarly keeping your computer free of these vicious little beasts is the same as protecting against other types of malware infections.
  • Always apply software and system updates – in short, don’t ignore them.
  • If you use a flash drive make sure it’s clean and free of suspicious programs.
Use good security software such as BullGuard Internet Security. Not only does it have award-winning triple anti-malware defence layers but also includes a layered and robust firewall that stops malicious attacks and nasty bots.