Tuesday Tidbits: Trifling, Troublesome Bots!

Scams: those have been around for as long as humans became “civilized,” it would seem! Various Saturday-morning cartoons have spoofed them from time to time, IIRC; these days, entire television shows are dedicated to them – Catfish: The TV Show being one.

When the Internet was nothing more than a conglomeration of online forums and message-boards, with only a select few knowing about it or even interacting on it regularly, online scams were few and far between. After everybody and their mother, grandmother, and great-grandfather’s dog suddenly had access to the World Wide Web, the scammers followed, and online scams became the new threat. As scams became as obvious as Doctor Stanley’s Snake-Oil Cure-All and his wife’s genuine imitation pearls, they ‘evolved’ to circumvent security programs and firewalls. Now, one has to be aware of the sophisticated means others use to scam people online, and there are many!

For example, how many people are aware of the relatively ancient, but insidious, ‘Nigerian Prince’ email phishing scam? A good number of people have fallen prey to it, even though it is such an obvious contrivance that I question how and why they were susceptible to it. It is certainly the most popular one, in that is still the go-to scam that is blamed for malware and hacking intrusions, but it isn’t the only one! For this post, I am going to be talking specifically about ‘bots’ and the ways that they are able to mimic a genuine, ‘real’ account.

For lay-people, a ‘bot’ is, essentially, a hijacked computer; one that has been programmed and coded to do specific things without the knowledge of the user. Email ‘phishing’ scams are usually the culprit, the aforementioned ‘Nigerian Prince’ being one; others involve dating or porn sites, ‘mail-order’ bride scams, or ad-scams for cheap Viagra, Cialis, or Extense from Canada and other places overseas. Funny to get scams for male ‘enhancement,’ especially when one isn’t a man, or a cruiser of dating or porn-sites. This only goes to show how careful anyone must be when giving out one’s email address, and how much caution should be used when responding to emails. Those which haven’t been expressly solicited are major tells, as are emails with questionable attachments and / or subject lines.

Digressing: the hijacked computer-bot can now do whatever it has been programmed to do. Usually, this involves sending its malware / virus / Trojan-Horse code to as many other computers as possible, generally as an attachment in an email. This attachment gets sent to people on the contact list of the infected computer, even if the user doesn’t have…oh, let’s say, an Outlook account, as an example. The recipient might think that they have a legitimate email from a friend and open it, but find out later on that the email contained malware, because it wasn’t really from a friend.

Bots are quite common in MMOs, and my online game is no different. In the halcyon days of The Elder Scrolls Online, bots were everywhere and incredibly obvious! The in-game bots were of three different types: spam-bots, ‘train’ bots, and ‘collector’ bots. The spam-bots are almost always seen at dolmens or in delves, right on the spot that the boss will spawn at, and they are always using the same ‘ultimate’ move over, and over, and over again.

Spam-bots may or may not be accompanied by the ‘train’ bots. The name is self-explanatory; you might see a ‘train’ of four or five characters running in a circle. The train runs…well, like a train! You have the ‘engine’ doing the main action, then the bots in the train do the exact same motion / action as the ‘engine’ does, only a nanosecond or three later. These types of bots farm bosses for loot, and / or nodes for materials – slower and less efficient than the other types, but still a major nuisance in their own right.

The ‘collector’ bots are the most difficult to see, as they have been programmed to do one thing: collect a certain material from a certain node. In-game, there are materials which are valuable to the crafters who make armour, weapons, and other things for their friends and / or guild-mates. The collectors basically ‘farm’ these nodes unfairly, flying through the air at hyperspeed, or sliding underground out of sight, taking the nodes and everything on them and making it impossible for the regular player to harvest these materials fairly.

During the evolution of TESO, the programmers / code-writers behind the bots have evolved as well. Now, the bots are as big an issue as they were when the game was first launched, but a bit more difficult to spot. It isn’t impossible, but it takes a bit of observation and vigilance on the part of any player who spies them. Once they’ve been identified and reported, the ban-hammer is laid down by the overseeing overlords, and the offending account(s) are terminated permanently.

You might be asking yourself, “What the hell does this have to do with ME?!? I don’t play online games; if I do, I’m safe on my little console because people who play games on PCs are morons! Also, I’m far too involved in my Twitter-pated Facebooking and Instagramming, so this doesn’t affect me at all!” Guess what, sunshine: this affects you, too. You know how you have your little ‘newsfeed’ on Facebook? Well, bots can have their way with it and you, and you are completely unaware of it. The whole “Fake News” bullshit is directly related to Facebook and Twitter-bots and the ignorance of those who became willing patsies of same, due to their narcissistic need for a bandwagon to jump on for popularity, stat-padding, and ‘friend’ collecting. Even WordPress isn’t immune to these insidious bots! I can think of more than a few blogs which have red flags waving at me the moment I click on them and view the first page or post. The ones which allow ads are the worst culprits, and they always warn me with this:

This is why some comments get put in my WordPress trash barrel. If I click on your site and get a security warning then I’m not going to link to it, even via my comment section. If your site is compromised, then I’m not comfortable directing others to it. It’s as simple as that. Trashing a comment isn’t putting it into the Spam folder indefinitely, either; it is simply putting it in the ‘circular file’ until you get your security issues taken care of. If you can’t be bothered with paying to keep insidious, annoying, security-breaching ads off of your site, then I can’t be bothered with reading your site and exposing my computer to potential malware. Nothing personal, I just value my privacy and security more than you value your oodles of readers and followers. Besides, if all you’re doing is collecting followers, then it begs the question: Why? To what end are you collecting the information of thousands of people? What is your objective or your agenda? These are questions which flit across my mind, from time to time, when I surf the web and read various news-sites or blogs, or watch a music video on YouTube. “Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.” Those song lyrics perfectly convey the way that I am when I’m online, in pretty much every online activity in which I might engage. Question everything! It isn’t a bad thing to do.

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