A remote-controlled software program that acts as an agent for a user. For example, crawler bots are programs used for searching on the Internet. Chatbots talk with humans or other bots, whereas shopbots search the Web to find the best prices for products. Knowbots collect specific information from Websites.
Bots can be doing clandestine things even when the computer owner thinks the computer is inactive. For example, if a bot is present, the computer can be sending spam to thousands or millions of email addresses or be actively participating in a cyber attack on some company’s Website. It can also be transmitting the computer user’s passwords and personal information to some cyber-fraud artist.
Though bots are not new, the threat that they impart has been rising at an alarming rate. In fact, security reports of PCs infected by bots increased by 600% between April and September 2004, according to Symantec Canada Corporation. Bots are in more frequent use because cybercriminals can make large sums of illegal money using these devices.
In the 2004 security report of Trend Micro Inc., bots creating significant damage tend to use IRC channels to give a remote cracker access to a compromised system. The cyberburglar can then steal application CD keys, launch DoS attacks, set up remote connections, scan ports that are open, or conduct back door routines that compromise systems. Bots are a favored tool of cybercriminals because the software on the PC and the unauthorized network activity are difficult to detect. This is especially the case for home users and small businesses that do not have the luxury of having trained security experts on-site.
There is more bad news regarding bots. After they are in place, bots are very difficult to remove because they are generally designed to hide themselves from virus scanners and software tools such as Windows Task Manager (whose function is to list the processes running on the PC). To protect networks from bots, security professionals not only use anti-virus software and network firewalls but also promptly install system updates.
Buckler, G. Security: Is Your Computer Part of a Criminal Network? The Globe and Mail, January 20, 2005, p. B9; Webnox Corporation. BOT: Dictionary Entry and Meaning. [Online, 2003.] Webnox Corporation Website. http://www.hyperdictionary.com/ dictionary/bot.