Web robots, commonly referred to as "bots," are software programs written to do automated tasks, like crawling the Web looking for new sites. They also appear in chat rooms and instant messaging services masquerading as real people.
Depending on the level of sophistication of the artificial intelligence, they can attempt to understand questions and respond appropriately. Usually the conversation is pre-set, which makes for some rather silly conversations.
Bots are nothing new, but not everyone has personally interacted with one. I, for one, have never been approached by a bot in a chat room or on IM, so I was entertained by the humorous transcript in the screenshot below in which a Windows Live Messenger user gets chatted up by a bot that assumes she is male and tries to lure her to a Webcam site:
The bot then directs "Mary" to a Web site and the conversation continues...
email@example.com says:sweet, fill out the info ur info.. i can not wait for you to see me baby let me find something nice to wear
Mary says:wow this is a botnet, crazy!! ha ha
firstname.lastname@example.org says:whats a bot?
Mary says:u r not a real person
email@example.com says:its the sites policy to ensure no minors get access to the site, so they might ask for CC to verify your age babe.
Mary says:what is the capital of saudi arabia.....
firstname.lastname@example.org says:What color Panties do you think i should wear? i might have you favorite color here somewhere...
Mary says:hmmm pink
email@example.com says:ok, great I got the perfect pink panties for ya ...ur gunna love these!!
Mary says:no black
firstname.lastname@example.org says:Your such a good boy, i'm gonna show you what good boys deserve.. you can tell me to do anything you want me to do!
Mary says:i am a girl!!
email@example.com says:Ok let me know when you get in so I can invite you directly to my cam.
In this case, it was interesting to see that the only words that triggered a custom response were "botnet" and "pink."
The only danger from the site this bot was directing to appeared to be that it prompted "Mary" for credit card information, said Michael Greene, vice president of product strategy at PC Tools, a security software company.
But other bots are more dangerous, leading victims to sites that download malware onto visitors' computers, he said in an interview this week. To protect against that, PC Tools offers a free tool called ThreatFire that's designed to block malicious software downloads.
However, the best protection is to just avoid clicking on links sent by strangers, particularly ones who seem to be avoiding your simple questions and directing you to porn.