Security

Beware of the bots: How they're created and why they matter

Distil Networks' co-founder Rami Essaid explains how bots are created and used to help spread fake news, conduct crime, and make money.

The world of politics is not the only realm that should be concerned about bots, spam, and fake news. Business owners and enterprises will also encounter these at some point, if they haven't already.

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson met with Distil Networks' co-founder Rami Essaid to discuss how social media bots and fake news work, how to defend against them, and why your business may be a target.

A botnet is any type of computer program script written to emulate a real person. When referring to social media, it's a fake profile or account. Often times, bots and fake news go hand-in-hand because bots are used to spread fake news stories. "With bots, you can get a lot of scale very, very quickly," Essaid said. "And so something that normally wouldn't have got the time of day can be amplified and seem legitimate in a matter of seconds."

SEE: Social Media and Web Usage Policy (Tech Pro Research)

These accounts are created through different bots. Essaid explained that because the web has become very programmatic, scripts can be written out to create accounts in seconds. It works by writing one script and one botnet that will create email addresses, another bot that will create Twitter accounts to go with those addresses, and sometimes a third bot that will create phone numbers to verify those social media accounts. "It's very purpose-built bots that all come together piece by piece to create what looks like a legitimate profile online," he said.

Though it may seem easy for some social media users to spot the difference between a legitimate social account and one that is a bot, as these bots begin to grow in size, they begin to blend in with real users. Essaid said even Twitter and Facebook have a difficult time distinguishing the difference, so average users will as well.

These bots are used by a various actors ranging from people conducting organized crime to state actors who use them to push their political agenda to individuals trying to make money.

"Essentially, you can do anything you want with a little bit of time, or a little bit of effort with bots. It's not as sophisticated as people think it is to create these things in mass," Essaid said.

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About Leah Brown

Leah Brown is the Associate Social Media Editor for TechRepublic. She manages and develops social strategies for TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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