An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering (web crawler), in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. More than half of all web traffic is made up of bots.
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a
robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot interacting with (or 'spidering') any server that does not follow these rules should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary - in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents. Some bots are "good" - e.g. search engine spiders - while others can be used to launch malicious and harsh attacks. For example, in political campaigns.
Some bots communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. These chatterbots may allow people to ask questions in plain English and then formulate a proper response. These bots can often handle many tasks, including reporting weather, zip-code information, sports scores, converting currency or other units, etc. Others are used for entertainment, such as SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.
An additional role of IRC bots may be to lurk in the background of a conversation channel, commenting on certain phrases uttered by the participants (based on pattern matching). This is sometimes used as a help service for new users, or for censorship of profanity.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots they launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers through which Betfair can actively manage bot interactions.
Another, more malicious use of bots is the coordination and operation of an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Internet bots can also be used to commit click fraud and more recently have seen usage around MMORPG games as computer game bots. A spambot is an internet bot that attempts to spam large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links. More than 94.2% of websites have experienced a bot attack.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
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