Everybody is in love with the iPhone's Siri virtual assistant. The Android camp is working on their own version named Iris and the media is awash in stories about the future of natural language interfaces and artificial intelligence.
While its still in its novelty phase, it's pretty easy to tell when you're talking with a computer and when you're not. Siri isn't the first iteration of conversation-based computer interaction. Chatterbots and other virtual assistants have become more and more popular in recent days. While there are useful bots like Siri, there is also a dark side to the bot world.
Malicious bots are used by cybercriminals to do their bidding. Here is a breakdown of some of the more insidious uses of bot technology:
SPAM and SPIM bots
These bots bombard your inbox with SPAM and interrupt your chats by sending you unsolicited instant messages (SPIM). Some unscrupulous advertisers use these bots to target individuals based on demographic information obtained from the user's profile. These bots are usually easy to spot because they typically don't attempt to engage in conversation and often just send you a link to click on along with some kind of hook to get you interested.
A zombie bot is a computer that has been compromised and has become a slave to the person who controls it along with hundreds or thousands of other computers as part of a bot net. They use these zombie computers to coordinate large scale attacks where all the zombie computers act in unison, carrying out commands sent by the master bot net owner. These infections can be difficult to detect and eradicate. Many owners of the zombie bot-infected computers don't even know their PCs are infected.
Malicious File-sharing Bots
Users of peer-to-peer file sharing services have almost certainly encountered malicious file-sharing bots. These bots take the user's query term (i.e. a movie or song title) and respond to the query stating that they have the file available and provide a link to it. In reality, the bot takes the search query term, generates a file by the same name (or similar name), and then injects a malicious payload into the fake file. The unsuspecting user downloads it, opens it, and unknowingly infects their computer.
Dating service websites and other similar sites are often havens for malicious chatterbots. These chatterbots pretend to be a person and are generally good at emulating human interactions. Some people fall for these chatterbots, not realizing that they are malicious programs that attempt to obtain personal information and even credit card numbers from unsuspecting victims.
There are a ton of bots that fall into this category. Many of these bots are more like scripts that attempt to obtain financial gain for their creators by generating false clicks for advertisement revenue programs, creating fake users for sweepstakes entries, generating thousands of fake votes for something that the creator is for or against, etc.
So what can you do to protect yourself from malicious bots?
1. Scan your computer with a Second Opinion Scanner
Many anti-virus programs don't detect bot net-related software. Consider installing a using a second opinion scanner such as Malwarebytes to see if your primary anti-virus might have missed something.
2. Don't click links or give out any personal info when chatting online with strangers
While you might be trying to put yourself out there in the dating world you should never give out any personal information while chatting to anyone online. Even when talking on Facebook, if you notice something odd about a question your friend is asking you, call or text them to see if it is really them. For more tell-tale signs check out How to Tell a Faceboook Friend From a Facebook Hacker.