11 January 2022 | 6 min read | Deimantas Jonikas
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What Is a Spam Bot? All You Need To Know

Discover how spam bots work, what the different types of spam bots are, as well as how to protect yourself against them.

A spam bot sitting in front of a computer with a magnifying glass.

A spam bot, or spambot, is a computer application that spammers employ to send vast quantities of spam messages automatically. 

The program is simple, and it usually relies on a list of email addresses collected via email harvesting or scraping. Email scrapers scour the internet and then combine all addresses into massive mailing lists. Once that’s done, the spam bot uses fake accounts to send spam emails or junk mail. 

However, spam bots are not limited to emails only. They can operate all over the web, and the main point is that they send spam messages. This applies to a wide range of websites and applications, including:

  • Social media platforms
  • Forums
  • Messaging apps
  • Email hosting providers

Spammers have a lot of reasons to use spam bots. In most cases, they use them to:

  • Spread malware
  • Operate scams
  • Send spam comments
  • Post demeaning content
  • Send backlinks to improve search engine rankings
  • Spread unwanted advertisements

Many websites use different anti-spam measures to prevent spam bots from conducting repetitive and automated malicious tasks. However, spammers keep collecting email addresses, finding new ways to create accounts and sending unwanted messages. 

This leads to a never-ending war that affects all of us, as everyone can be subjected to a spam bot phishing attack or spam comment.

Let’s discuss how spam bots operate, what the most common types are and how to avoid them. 

How do spam bots work?

Spam bots work in various ways, but they always have the same goal – to send spam messages. These messages may be different. At the end of the day, it’s not the content that matters but, instead, what the spammer is trying to achieve through them. 

Spam bots start by creating fake accounts on social media and other platforms. The goal is to disguise misleading messages and make it seem as if they are coming for real accounts (e.g., social media accounts). If they are typical email bots, they first locate vast numbers of email addresses and create mailing lists for their makers. 

One can easily program a bot to create an account automatically, as most sites have simple account creation steps. That’s why many sites now use CAPTCHAs or other challenge-response tests that can help separate bots from real users. 

Example of a CAPTCHA text that consists of a mix of letters and numbers.
CAPTCHA test for an internet user creating a new account

Unfortunately, in many cases, spam bots attempt and succeed at circumnavigating these tests. Once they have an account, they can quickly post spam messages, leave comments and send malware to a real user. They do this by following a script created by a spammer. 

Naturally, spam bots operate differently depending on what type they are. 

The most common types of spam bots are:

  • Email spam bots
  • Forum/comment spam bots
  • Social media spam bots

Let’s take a closer look at how each one works and what it does. 

Email spam bot 

A typical email spam bot does two primary things:

  • Scrape the web for email addresses to create mailing lists
  • Send spam emails that spread malware or aid the spammer in other ways

Spam bots can find email addresses using different methods. They are typically programmed to scan webpages for email addresses and look for text online that follows the email address format.

An envelope with a number of spam emails listed next to it.
Email inbox full of spam emails

When the bots find addresses, they add them to a database. Then all the spammer has to do is use that database or mailing list to send emails in bulk. Spammers can also use other methods to find email addresses. For example, they can buy them on the dark web or steal email lists from companies. 

Regardless of how spammers create mailing lists, in most cases, they don’t just send spam. Instead, they send spam emails that can help spread malicious programs or steal personal information and vital credentials through phishing attacks. Cybercriminals can also use malicious programs to exploit the corrupted systems to distribute spam.  

Forum/comments spam bot

A forum or comment spam bot focuses on posting comments on forums, blogs, wikis and other similar websites. They might have to create an account to do so, but they can often do it without an account if the site allows users to post messages anonymously. 

Naturally, most forums don’t allow such bot activity and use CAPTCHAs and other methods to disable them from creating accounts. If the bot does succeed, it is eventually deleted when the moderators and administrators uncover malicious activity. However, spammers don’t need to rely on one account. They can continue creating new spam accounts, which doesn’t require a lot of effort. 

In most cases, spammers use forum bots to leave spam comments that promote specific services or malicious websites. Alternatively, they may use them to post spam messages with more personal motives, like promoting a particular view on a heated political topic or just for the sake of trolling

A spam bot in front of a computer trolling on the internet.
Spam bots enable spammers to perform internet trolling

Social media spam bot

Many spam bots operate on social media, mainly because billions of internet users use platforms like Facebook and Twitter. A spam bot can also infect a messaging app and act like a typical chatbot. It functions similarly to a forum bot as it creates fake accounts and misleading posts. 

The posts this type of bot creates usually promote deals on popular products, free items, adult content or fake/scam offers. It can also simply promote websites that further expose users to scams or spam content. 

Spam bots don’t only create fake profiles to do all of this – they also steal personal data and credentials to breach and hijack real users’ accounts. A spam bot usually manages to take over a social media profile through credential stuffing – a cyberattack that uses stolen or breached credentials and other data to hack into accounts. 

Spam bot climbing out of a smartphone surrounded by social media app icons.
Spam bots are active on social media platforms

How can spam bots be prevented?

Spam bots are a big problem today, but a preventable one. Internet users can, in most cases, notice the difference between a good bot and a bad bot. That’s because an average spam bot is rarely ever sophisticated enough to act as a convincing human user. However, it’s still important to learn about them and not let your guard down. 

Businesses can also minimize the effect of spam bots by using specific tools and applying protection measures. Let’s take a look at the most important ones.

Add Google reCAPTCHA 

One of the most common methods a website can use to prevent most spam bots is to embed CAPTCHA into the contact form or the registration process. CAPTCHA technology is constantly improved, and it can usually prevent most bad bots from abusing the site’s data or users.

With Google reCAPTCHA, you can prevent a spam bot from:

  • Creating an account on your website
  • Filling in the contact forms (emails)
  • Commenting on posts and threads

Naturally, this is never a sure thing. CAPTCHA is usually effective against basic bots but useless against the more advanced ones.

Consider spam bot protection software

Bot management software can help protect your website against bots. This software can tell the difference between spam bot activities and regular interactions of real users. 

The cyberattacks that bot management software solutions usually deal with are:

  • DoS and DDoS attacks 
  • Brute force password hacking
  • Credential and credit card stuffing
  • Spam content
  • Email harvesting
  • Click and ad frauds

What’s more, good software usually can differentiate between good and bad bots, which is vital for companies using chatbots and other types of good bots. In other words, bot management software can protect you from malicious spam bots. 

IP address blocklist on a computer screen.
An IP blocklist is a helpful solution for dealing with spam bots

Blocklist IPs

When it comes to preventing spam bots, you can always go straight to the source – the IP address from which the suspicious activity is coming. 

You can simply block a suspicious IP permanently. That way, you don’t have to worry about spam bots coming from it and affecting your website and users. 

Additionally, you can take a less radical approach by setting a limit for how many forms on your site can be filled from the same IP address. 

Employ WHOIS privacy protection

You can also use WHOIS privacy protection for security against email spam bots. WHOIS protection effectively hides the email of a domain from the public. It can ensure that your email addresses, phone numbers and other vital data are unavailable in the public WHOIS system. 

This way, the data that spam bots tend to harvest is hidden so they can’t scrape emails and numbers. This, in turn, ensures that you are less susceptible to cyberattacks, including phishing.

Conclusion

Now that you know how spam bots work and what they are, you can certainly appreciate how problematic they can be. The main problem is the sheer number of bots as they are all over the internet. Moreover, they are getting more sophisticated as time passes, prompting us to develop additional and improved ways of combating them. 

Thankfully, various measures and solutions are available for companies and can offer a reliable defense mechanism against bots. Apply the solutions discussed in this article to ensure that bots do not pose a problem you have to deal with on your website.


About the author

Deimantas Jonikas

Chief Information Security Officer

Deimantas is a Chief Information Security Officer at IPXO. He ensures that IPXO’s information security management systems function at full throttle with the latest technological advancements.