IT Support &
Business Software

Not everyone who visits your website is real

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bot website visitsThese days the majority of website visits aren’t actually by people. They are visited by “bots”, computer programs written to do automated tasks. In some instances, these bots are performing useful functions such as updating search results or refreshing content. In other cases however, they can be harvesting information, impersonating humans or maliciously attacking a web site’s vulnerability.

According to recent studies, taking into account 10’s of billions of website visits, as much as 52% of web traffic is now from bots. Sadly, the malicious bots outweigh the “helpful” bots too.

Bots generally try to mimic human behaviour when visiting sites. Although they obviously don’t care what they are “reading”, they will happily trawl through boring documents, online brochures and price lists etc. trying to scavenge security information, email addresses or identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

Statistically around every 3rd website “visitor” is a bot trying to attack a website in an assortment of ways. For example, consuming all the bandwidth to potentially cause the site to go offline, impersonating someone registering on a site to flood a mailbox with confirmation messages, inflicting malware on insecure sites and even duplicating a site’s content outright to re-use on a bogus website.

When it comes to impersonating humans, you’ll find bots posting spam, marketing and even political content via contact forms on web pages, posting in forums, adding comments on media sites and clogging up social media sites.

Apparently over 4% of all (we assume “good”) bot activity on the web can be attributed to Facebook!

Unscrupulous concert ticket resellers have been caught using bots to unfairly buy up the best seats for an event by performing multiple purchases faster than a genuine customer could.

You’ll have seen that many websites that use contact forms or allow posting, also employ some kind of challenge/response test (generally known as a CAPTCHA) to confirm the visitor is real. They will commonly ask the visitor to retype a misshapen sequence of letters, resolve a simple mathematical function, or identify certain features in a random photograph. Whilst these do a good job of keeping many bots out, they are not infallible. As computer artificial intelligence progresses, bots are evolving to be able to deal with these. Also, some CAPTCHA’s have been found to have bugs in them and so can be circumvented. Therefore, it’s a constant battle for the CAPTCHA creators to try to keep ahead of the bots capabilities. Additionally, CAPTCHA’s can obviously be problematic for partially or non-sighted web users.

Ironically some bot owners have even been found to employ cheap human labour to respond to a CAPTCHA the bot can’t handle itself. A case of humans – using machines – using humans!

It’s ironic that an increasing amount of website content is now created, or at least curated, automatically. And it’s proved that the vast majority of website browsing is now by bots. So to the few humans that read to the end of this article, thank you!

 


AUTHOR: Mark, IT Support Engineer

Mark looks after the computer systems and networks of our clients to ensure they run smoothly. He is on hand to resolve any issues that arise so employees can work effectively and get maximum benefit from their IT systems.


 

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