Need legal advice? Returning that shirt? Want to talk to a therapist?
There’s a bot for that.
Bots – short for robot – are computerized software that talk like humans, designed to help consumers with just about everything. According to the security firm Imperva, bots outnumber humans online: bots account for more than 52 percent of web traffic.
“(Bots) are in more places than you think they are,” said cyber security researcher Brannon Dorsey. “In areas they are not, they will be soon.”
While many bots are helpful – for example, chatbots, which many companies use for customer service – researchers warn that many are malicious and hard to detect.
Case in point: in the fall of 2016, attackers deployed millions of bots to shut down much of the American Internet for hours. Malicious hackers essentially directed the massive botnet to simultaneously overwhelm a web service with traffic. As a result, consumers had trouble accessing prominent websites, such as Amazon, Twitter, Spotify, Netflix and PayPal.
Also in 2016, Russian-linked, automated accounts spewed misinformation on social media, according to Facebook and Twitter executives, in an effort to create chaos ahead of the presidential election.
“It is very easy for someone to go on Twitter or Facebook and set up hundreds or thousands of fake personas with photos, bios and information,” said cyber security expert Nick Percoco. “Be aware of who are what you’re communicating with, and it’s really tough. This is not something that’s an easy answer.”
Experts said as bots become more sophisticated, it increases the chances to trick consumers.
“Bots are going to get better at evading detection,” said Dorsey. “It’s going to be a cat and mouse game.”
Social media platforms have taken steps to rein in their bot problem. Both Twitter and Facebook announced in recent months that it has undergone a massive purge of fake accounts.
In a blog post, Facebook published its first ever “Community Standards Enforcement Report,” where the company said it removed 583 million fake accounts in the first three months of this year.