Bot traffic fueling rise of fake news and cybercrime

Man reading news on tablet
(Image credit: Kaboompics / Pexels)

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted daily life around the world and the WHO recently warned that an overabundance of information about the virus makes it difficult for people to differentiate between legitimate news and misleading information.

At the same time, EU security services have warned that Russia is aggressively exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to push disinformation and weaken Western society through its bot army.

Cybersecurity firm Radware has been using its bot manager to monitor internet traffic in an attempt to track the “infodemic” that both the WHO and EU security services have issued warnings on. 

According to its data, bots have upped their game and organizations in the social media, ecommerce and digital publishing industries have experienced a surge in bad bot traffic following the coronavirus outbreak.

The bots have been found to be executing various insidious activities including spreading disinformation, spam commenting and more. Radware also discovered that in February, 58.1 percent of bots had the capability to mimic human behavior. This means that they can disguise their identities, create fake accounts on social media sites and post their masters' propaganda while appearing as a genuine user.

Scraping content

Radware's research suggests that cybercriminals are targeting media and digital publishing sites in order to scrape their unique content. This content is then published on malware-ridden websites to try and scam visitors looking for the latest news on the coronavirus.

In fact, 27.7 percent of traffic on media sites in February was from bad bots carrying out automated activity, including scraping content. Ecommerce websites have also seen an increase in bot activity and during the same time period, 31.3 percent of their traffic was made up of bad bots.

In a blog post, senior content marketer for Radware's product marketing team Manwendra Mishra explained how bots will continue to contribute to misinformation about the coronavirus, saying:

“As the coronavirus threat intensifies, bots will drive the infodemic much further, continuing to be an efficient tool for cybercriminals, nation-state actors, and conspiracy theorists alike. The impact of information — true or false — especially in times of fear, uncertainty and confusion is greater. Because communication channels are diverse, authorities have very little control of bot activity. In the coming months, we expect the use of bots to accelerate due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the US presidential election.”

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.