Captcha test anyone? It seems it is increasingly becoming hard for the internet to tell who is human and who is a robot.
Chances are you have gone through a captcha test at some point in your life or maybe even last week. The test is used to help decide whether a user is a human or a robot when using the internet and often is annoying. The term CAPTCHA is an abbreviation for “Completely Automated Public Turing test”.
Many websites have been using the captcha test as a way of preventing software from spamming user comments on respective websites or from buying items in big amounts. Bots have grown in number since 2021 and measures to block them out of websites have been intensifying since the revelation that 64% of all internet activity conducted in 2021 was by bots. Wondering about what these bots do on the internet and why there has been a rise in bot activity? Read on to find out
What are internet bots?
Bots are specifically designed software programmed to imitate and impersonate human behavior online. Bots are often used to perform automated tasks like indexing search engines or customer service-related tasks. Likely you have come across these bots while you were using the internet. Some common bots include shopping bots and chatbots which are considered good bots. Shopping bots assist users who want to buy things online to get the best deals on chosen products.
The shopping bot compares product prices across various storefronts of online stores so a user can settle on buying the item at a better offer while chatbots are used in replacement for human customer service providers. Users who have queries that need addressing can be assisted by chatbots without human customer service executives getting involved.
Since we have what we call good bots, then the obvious is clear, we also have bad bots on the internet that websites need protection from. Here are a few examples of bad bots that businesses or websites should be aware of:
Click fraud bots
These bots are bad for businesses using traffic-generated advertising to boost sales and returns. They are used to produce large amounts of non-human traffic for paid adverts which are bad for websites using advertising models such as pay-per-click (PPC). Using PPC the advertiser places an advert whose charge will depend on how many have viewed or clicked on it online and the advertiser hopes that these clicks will translate to sales and profits.
Click fraud bots can drive up these clicks and the advert fee without the advertiser gaining anything in return. A case of click fraud bots is the one related to Aleksandr Zhukov a Russian national who was found guilty in 2021 of scamming ad networks. Zhukov scammed these networks by posting their adverts on websites that were spoofed so the advertisements were shown to bots instead of real people. The websites included New York Daily News and New York Times.
Considered one of the most dangerous bots, social bots can spread misinformation, push discussions or narratives on social media, or inflate views or likes on certain posts.
Social bots recently got attention during the defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard where Heard claimed that internet bots were being used to run a smear campaign after her.
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) bots
If at some point you wanted to access a website and it turned out to be unavailable, it might be that the DDoS was at work. These bots flood websites with fake traffic so when real humans want to access them they will be unavailable. A well-known example of this is MyDoom which is a computer virus that once it infects a device will send spam emails to email addresses collected from that device and then DDoS attacks will be launched using the infected computers.
Why are bots rising?
They are profit-making software
Bots are on the rise making up more internet activity than humans because they are benefiting businesses. Since bots can be used to inflate likes and views of posts on websites they can make unpopular websites look popular to customers.
Some companies with big websites avoid investigating bot traffic for fear of affecting the performance of their websites. Likewise, when people are middlemen to buy or sell digital add space or what is called digital advertising exchanges they will not point out having fake websites or apps that generate fake traffic or clicks (as with the Zhukov case of 2021). They will keep this quiet because more traffic means more money for them even if the traffic is not real.
They are hard to find
Bot activity is rising because what is and what is not a bot has become harder to identify especially when dealing with social bots. The majority of algorithms for bot detection focus on account behavior to see whether the traffic is being generated by a bot or a human but this is inefficient.
Remember that time when you were forced to do a captcha test when you wanted to use Google only because your device had generated too much traffic? Funny enough even Elon Musk’s Twitter account has been considered bot-like by Botometer a popular bot detection tool. Botometer rated the account 4 out of 5 for how bot-like the account behaved.
With cyborg bot accounts also available for social media the bots can easily slip the Clarks of detection. Cyborg bot accounts are accounts alternatively controlled by humans and bots making them hard to detect because of the switch.
Where do we go from here?
Knowing all this is a way of becoming aware that internet content can be bot created and it’s up to us to filter through it and we can’t deny the rise of bot activity. Malicious bots are indeed becoming hard to catch and smarter and we are not done with those captcha tests.