The good news is that bot innovation improves customer service. There are many scenarios where bots help the consumer do what they want to do in a fraction of the time it would take to do it themselves. The bad news is that they enable cybercrime.
Just like any useful tool, bots can be co-opted by attackers to optimise their criminal activity. The threats being faced are constantly evolving – driven by a growing list of motivations, including direct consumer fraud, political ends or personal grudges. Here’s some of the ways bots are doing the dirty work:
- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack – can be used by criminals who then demand a ransom to turn it off, or potentially by competitors looking to interfere with business and capture a greater share of the market.
- Intellectual Property Theft – cybercriminals use bots to duplicate proprietary information and data, which can then be parsed for intellectual property such as videos, email addresses or usernames sometimes hidden in web code. They also target logos or graphics, which could help an attacker design a realistic phishing site, thus degrading brand and company reputation and hurting customer relationships.
- Resource Hoarding (and Resale) – bots are the perfect tools for ticket scalpers, helping them easily scoop up large numbers of tickets to popular events, which they can then resell at a premium.
- Competitive Intelligence – with goods like airline tickets and hotel rooms where costs can fluctuate rapidly, bots can glean information from other providers to drive prices down and create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Optimising Business Intelligence in the Age of Bots
It’s essential for any organisation to analyse the ratio of bots to humans interacting with their sites and applications. Implementing tools such as web application firewalls (WAFs) that offer advanced bot management capabilities can help alleviate costs associated with serving bots.
Overly aggressive bot deflection could have a negative impact on customers’ ability to interact with services. If they have to spend a lot of time and effort proving they are human, they may leave in frustration and seek out competitors.
Also, failing to facilitate “good” bots like digital assistants and search engine indexers for Google etc can result in services not being available or visible to potential customers.
Successful bot management will result in some level of impact to site statistics (like page views), and data mining will likely look somewhat different – but be more accurate – since more traffic will be blocked.
How Bots Affect Security Strategy
With the explosion of autonomous programs on the Internet – both malicious and benign – it may be necessary to rethink existing strategies for keeping applications and data safe.
While traditional IP intelligence and reputation-based filtering can help, these technologies may need to evolve to keep pace with smarter and smarter bots. Looking forward, the business community should consider alternatives to IP reputation – including evaluating longer-term reputation associated with cryptographically verifiable identities – to better facilitate bot detection and management.
Advances in AI technology mean that bots could begin using applications the way humans do, which could hinder efforts to identify them based on behavioural traits such as session and workflow profiling. Some bots are even human enabled, meaning they can outsource certain types of tasks (like solving CAPTCHA challenges) to humans when those tasks are too di
Command-and-control systems are evolving, too. Cybercriminals have begun employing steganography techniques to relay commands hidden within images posted to public forums and social networks, a process that makes bot-enabled malware traffic very difficult or even impossible to detect.
It’s clear that bots are changing life online. And while it’s tempting to concentrate on the multitude of malicious bots roaming the Internet, organisations should also be mindful of the opportunities these autonomous programs present. By developing a comprehensive, flexible strategy to address the impact of bots, organisations can protect their applications and data while preparing for sustained growth.
F5 are leaders in the application services industry who pride themselves on their ability to make applications available anywhere, any time and on any device.
‘Bots Mean Business’ taken from the F5 guide entitled ‘From DDoS to Digital Point of Sale: Bots Mean Business’