Bots have received a bad reputation in the last year, having featured prominently in the mainstream media due to accusations levied by the U.S. Democratic Party against President Donald Trump. "Russian Bots" have allegedly been responsible for various malicious deeds, including influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election, making racists out of self-proclaimed activists and "orchestrating a coup d'état."
Russian propaganda botnets have even been labeled as major threats to U.S. businesses with the ability to destroy a business. Business owners need to get an education on bot tech before it's too late.
What exactly is bot technology?
As an early adopter of many forms of social media, I took an interest in this particular subject. The term "bots" has become something of a catch-all term to describe any anonymous party attempting to interfere with Western politics. That is way too overbroad a definition.
"Bots" are are basically built upon traditional Internet communications technology and are observably the natural evolution of artificial intelligence. Their purpose is to serve as automated tools for the fast and efficient completion of repetitive processes, and solving problems pertaining to Internet data storage, indexing and exchange.
A chat bot is pre-loaded with a database of keywords that pertain to its specific purpose. The bot is programed to identify instances and combinations of words within the speech or text of the user before cross-referencing it with a set of pre-defined conversational scenarios to inform its choice of (often) a pre-written response.
Certainly, they can create more problems than they solve, which is what many have worried about, including those of the belief that they serve as a major threat to U.S. businesses. As such, business owners should at least have an appreciation of what they are and what they are not.
What are the true threats that come with pervasive bot tech?
Bots are really not all-that-new. Think about some of the anti-virus software that you have used since the dawn of computers.
"Bots, or Internet robots, are also known as spiders, crawlers, and web bots. While they may be utilized to perform repetitive jobs, such as indexing a search engine, they often come in the form of malware. Malware bots are used to gain total control over a computer."
That's a quote from the popular anti-virus software company Norton's website. Although the quote exhibits Norton's vested corporate interests, there is also significant evidence to support the threat-related claim.
But in today's day-and-age, it's not just the old-school viruses to beware of. There are threats of artificial manipulation of market values and infiltrating Telegram groups to instigate confidence-tricks as a potential result of a suspected recent "leak" of 70 million of their account credentials.
What opportunities arise in trying to solve the problems that bots can create, and what should you do?
Interestingly, as discussed above, the initial creation of bots was due to a desire to solve problems, not create them. However, in today's world, most people probably equate bots to being problem creators.
That said, when problems arise there is a need for solutions. And while small businesses must be equipped with the tools and knowledge to prepare for the threats that bots can cause, some businesses can even be borne based on a desire to access those tools.
For instance, a solution called PhishNet has a singular purpose of identifying and exposing phishing scams on Telegram. It was created by the minds behind the Coral Protocol and White Rabbit, which are premised on reducing fraud with cryptocurrency transactions.
This is but one small solution in an ecosystem that will need multiple options to avoid scammers and the prevalence of bots created for ulterior purposes. Again, businesses should beware of bot tech, but also see the utility in the designs as well as the opportunity to build protections from those harmful bots in the ecosystem.