First up… What’s a bot?
A bot is just an automated bit of software that wanders around the internet doing something. Most are needed for today’s internet to work, although some are more nefarious. But even the good ones cause problems. An example of needed bots are search engine bots. These spend their days going to a web page, and following every link they find, and reporting back what they find. This is how Google, et al, find all the pages so you can search them.
Another example are people who do social media monitoring. These guys have bots that wander around Twitter seeing where #hashtags are being used, and who is spreading them using @names, and so on.
The problem is that these bots look rather like a real user coming to your wesbite. Most of them are well behaved and declare “I’m a Google bot” at the door, so they can be filtered out. Some bots however aren’t so honest, and pretend to be real people using an iPhone and they’re harder to stop.
Then you’ve got bad bots. Some people might set up a network of thousands of bots each operating a Twitter account. This allows them to make it look like lots of people are sharing a #hashtag and making it a trend. When you hear in the news about 4chan making some untrue rumour trend on Twitter, this is what they’re doing. Social media monitoring companies are in a constant war with these guys trying to find out when real users are making things trend.
Worse than 4chan you’ve people like Lulzsec (Lame Uncomfortable Laugh Security) who’ve been in the news recently. These guys use networks of compromised (virused/hacked) PCs as bots to flood websites with so much traffic that nobody can access the sites.
So What Can You Do About Bots?
Most services you use on the internet will do their best to protect you against bots. For example when you have to enter some words that have been printed in a hard-to-read way before you’re allowed to comment on a blog, that’s the blog making sure you’re not a bot. If you’re running a blog you’ll find that standard blog software provides this for you. And if you’re using Google Analytics to track traffic, that automatically handles bots for you, so you can be confident that what you’re looking at is real traffic, not bots.
The hard part is if you’re providing tracking or authentication services: then you have to deal with the bots yourself. That’s when you have to build smarts into your platform so you can provide a service that just works for your customers without them having to worry about bots. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here at MePlease.
By Russell Bulmer, Head of Products, MePlease
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