EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Short for "robot," a bot in very basic terms is a computer program pretending to be human.

Bots are automated to do certain tasks and interactions, and can often run without any need for human help at all. They take up a huge amount of the traffic on the internet, and there are both good and bad bots.

5 things you need to know:

  1. The good bots do things like crawl the internet. Googlebots, for instance, help catalog what’s online, so you can find things faster when you perform a search. There are Shopbots that help you shop for the best price of those platform shoes you might be after, and Chatbots that carry a conversation with you to see how they can help when customer service is closed.
  2. The bad bots, on the other hand, can be programmed to break into users' accounts and steal data, infect computers with dangerous viruses or Malware, or send so much spam that they can bring a website down. Cybercriminals use bad bots to take over your computer and link it to others to make a network of "zombie computers" called a botnet that can then launch large-scale cyberattacks, thereby blocking users from the internet altogether.
  3. Bad bots can even be programmed to pose as fake people posting to Twitter or other social accounts to take sides and use lies to whip up distrust of even the most trusted leaders.
  4. Multiple countries have accused Russia of using hackers and bots as a way to influence elections here in the U.S. and spread lies about candidates, particularly in 2016 and in other elections around the world. You may have also read about the recent, huge computer breach that allowed hackers to break into 40 government agencies including the Pentagon, Treasury and Department of Energy.
  5. Disinformation campaigns about science, vaccines, democracy and elections have targeted internet users in the U.S.

One solution to possibly protect ourselves from these rogue lines of code is to make us all more accountable and identifiable as real, actual humans when we’re online, or even create laws to restrict the use of bots.