What are Bots and How Do They Put Your Home Computer at Risk?

December 16th, 2019
What are Bots

The word ‘bot’ comes from the word ‘internet robot,’ and while this word looks and sounds innocuous, bots can be a cybersecurity nightmare. Bad bots can fly below the radar, using good bots as a front, and wreak havoc.

What are bots?

A bot is an application or software or process that has been created to interact with other network services. These have been created expressly for the purpose of automating repetitive tasks. Bots have taken over certain tasks that otherwise were performed by human beings, typically those providing information or services. 

Google’s search engine spiders that crawl the internet to index new pages, critical to finding the results you see on search engine results pages, are an example of bots. A chatbot that you interact with in a customer support chat window is also a bot. You’ve likely encountered these on Amazon, Bank of America, Lyft, Spotify, and many other products and service sites.

But these are the good bots. What we are worried about are the bad bots.

Malicious bots: A dangerous and persistent threat

Bad bots are right up there amongst the worst cybersecurity threats. They can steal your data, infect your computer with malware, launch Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and do a whole lot more. The reason why these bots are so difficult to detect, which makes them even more challenging to protect against, is that they can disguise themselves as legitimate traffic.

Bots are doing tons of valid stuff on the internet, and cybercriminals take advantage of this to ensure bad bots fly below the radar to infect your PC or Mac with bot malware.

Here’s what bad bots can do:

  • Log your keystrokes
  • Steal passwords
  • Steal financial and other personal information
  • Exploit backdoors that have been opened by viruses and worms
  • Send spam that can be phishing emails or malspam (malware spam) 

Bots and botnets

If you are someone who keeps up with cybersecurity news like the latest hacking attacks and threats, you must have come across words like ‘zombie attacks’ and ‘botnets.’ It’s understandable to think these are phrases are from some apocalyptic movie where the world is taken over by zombies or robots.

These are computer security threats, and the foundation of these threats is the humble ‘bot.’ A bad bot is used by a cybercriminal to take over a computer – even your personal PC. This infected computer is called a zombie. Over a period of time, attackers take over multiple computers and create a network of zombie computers. These computers are then used to launch a large-scale malicious attack. This network of computers is called a botnet.

You might never realize that your computer is a part of a botnet being used to relay spam because botnets don’t have a large footprint. There is a chance that you might think your computer is performing slower than usual, but the difference is too minute to be noticeable.

Telltale signs that your PC might be infected with a bot malware include:

  • Frequent computer crashes without an identifiable reason
  • Slow internet access
  • Problems with computer shut down (it takes its time to shut down or doesn’t shut down completely/correctly)
  • Programs that loaded quickly and effortlessly previously are slow to load
  • Applications that worked seamlessly are now working in fits and starts
  • Your family and friends receive emails from you – but you didn’t send them
  • Advertisements pop-up on the screen – but you are not using a web browser 

How to protect your computer from trojan bot virus, bot virus and bot malware? 

While bad bots might have an extraordinary ability to disguise themselves, you can still take steps to protect your PC and Mac from bots. It is all about maintaining good cyber hygiene and adhering to browsing best practices:

  • Make sure all the software you use on your PC or Mac is up to date
  • Use strong passwords for your computer (a mix of numbers and symbols)
  • Don’t download unknown files on your computer
  • Enable popup blockers
  • Install high-quality antivirus protection that has advanced anti-malware features
  • Keep your antivirus updated
  • If you think your computer is infected with malware, take necessary steps to cleanup this infection

And, of course, we recommend protecting your computer with next-gen cybersecurity like Sophos Home.

Bots are autonomous programs. They infiltrate and run on your machine without your knowledge, executing tasks at an unusually high rate. Botnets are a collection of machines all infected with the same bot. They are able to direct their army of machines to cause more widespread damage.

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