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What you should know about Chatbots And cybersecurity

by Cybergal | Last Updated | April 21, 2022
Cyber Dictionary|CyberSecurity Insights

By now, you may be familiar with Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google’s Google Assistant. Or the pop-up features on websites that ask answers to common questions.

Chatbot image

Thanks to the magic of artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots are here to make both brand and consumer’s lives easier and more fun. Brands use them to promote their businesses. Consumers use chatbots to help them with shopping, banking, meal delivery, healthcare, and many other tasks.

If you’re a brand, is your customer service department or call center struggling to answer the same questions again and again? This is a pressing issue that calls for the use of chatbots.

Chatbots learn how to converse with customers in a human-like manner and direct them along the quickest road to conversion. This allows your company to effectively mimic in-store assistance scenarios for digital interactions.

Chatbots also give automated support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing worldwide shoppers to obtain real-time customer service.

Chatbot Statistics

Chatbot demand is rising. What does the chatbot adoption rate look like in 2022 and the near future? What are some of the most eye-catching chatbot statistics that will help you decide whether or not to invest in the technology for your own company?

Here are some of them:

So, What are Chatbots?

A chatbot is an artificial intelligence (AI) software that can imitate a natural language conversation (or chat) with a human user via messaging apps, websites, mobile apps, or the telephone. It allows people to communicate with digital devices as if they were talking to a real person.

Chatbots can be as simple as one-line scripts that respond to a simple query. They can also be as sophisticated as digital assistants, which learn to provide answers to more complicated questions. They can gather and analyze more data to provide greater personal levels of communicating with humans.

Artificial intelligence is the foundation of chatbots. Modern chatbots use the two branches of AI namely, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML).

Natural language processing is a branch of artificial intelligence that aims to make human language understandable to machines. To explore the norms and structure of language, NLP combines the power of linguistics and computer science. The goal is to develop intelligent systems that can comprehend, analyze, and extract meaning from text and speech.

Machine learning is another branch of artificial intelligence that allows machines to learn without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning creates computer programs that can access data used by machines to learn for themselves.

Chatbot evolution – from ELIZA to ALEXA

People’s fantasies about artificial intelligence started to dwindle when British mathematician Alan Turing created the Turing Test in 1950. The test determines whether a computer can think. Alan Turing proposed the idea that the human brain is a digital computing mechanism that evolves into a universal machine over time. 

Researchers continued to work on what we now know as chatbots after Turing’s death. To create the most artificial human experience, they used a variety of technologies such as NLP and AI. By the mid-1960’s, IBM created ELIZA, an ancestor of chatbot technology today. ELIZA seemed to be talking to humans like a real person through computers.

In the early 1970’s, American psychiatrist and AI expert Kenneth Colby built PARRY using the underlying principles of ELIZA. In 1973, ELIZA and PARRY started to converse.

The following years saw some significant chatbot technology breakthroughs in the following creations: [6]

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Types of Chatbots

To understand how chatbots work, let’s take a look at the different types of chatbots. Chatbots are classified according to build and function.

Types of chatbots according to how they are built

Rule-based chatbots

Rule-based chatbots rely on a set of predetermined rules to tell them how to automatically answer FAQs in the absence of a human.

Rule-based chatbots are relatively simple to develop and train to communicate with customers. The disadvantage is that they are limited in how they may engage in useful dialogue with shoppers because they are programmed using particular rule-based responses.

Types of Chatbots

AI chatbots

Modern AI chatbots are driven by artificial intelligence and its two branches – natural language processing and machine learning. 

AI Chatbots are a brand’s first point of contact with customers. They let businesses deliver real-time customer help in order to improve service quality and increase repeat business.

Shoppers can receive proactive recommendations from AI chatbots based on their browsing habits. These intelligent chatbots can make recommendations for products that meet the demands of their customers.

Types of AI chatbots according to function

Task-oriented chatbots

Task-oriented chatbots are one-purpose programs that specialize in a single task. They provide automated but conversational responses to user inquiries. These chatbot interactions are quite specific and structured. They’re best used for customer service and support services like interactive FAQs.

These chatbots can execute simple transactions and answer common questions, such as inquiries about business hours. Though they use NLP to engage customers in a conversational manner, their capabilities are very limited. These are the most popular chatbots right now.

Conversational chatbots

Conversational chatbots are also known as virtual assistants or digital assistants. They are more sophisticated, interactive, and individualized.

These chatbots are data-driven and use NLP and ML to learn as they go. They employ analytics and predictive intelligence to provide personalization based on user profiles and previous interactions.

Conversational chatbots can learn a user’s preferences over time, make suggestions, and even predict needs. They can initiate dialogues in addition to monitoring data and intent. Consumer-oriented, data-driven, predictive chatbots include Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

How Chatbots Work

We now know the different types of chatbots and their capabilities. When a chatbot interacts with a customer, it performs two tasks:

1. Analyze the user’s request

Collecting user data is a crucial function of chatbots. To engage the chatbot and start a discussion, you’ll often need to provide your first and last name, email address, and phone number. More information will be needed by a chatbot as the chat progresses.

A sales chatbot may inquire into a potential customer’s size, color preferences, price ranges, and other relevant information. 

For example, is the item for a special occasion? Is it a car add-on? Or a present for someone special? During a sales session with the AI chatbot, a significant amount of personal information could be exchanged.

How Chatbots Work

2. Provide an appropriate response

The chatbot must then deliver the most appropriate response to the user’s request once the user’s purpose has been established. Any of the following is a possible response:

Can Chatbots Go Rogue?

(Tay image idea source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tay_(bot)

In general, chatbots have not been used for hacking objectives. Chatbots are conversational assistants that automate repetitive chores. People like them because they assist them in completing jobs swiftly and without the need for human interaction.

However, an unprotected chatbot can be a security problem. Hackers can use defenseless AI chatbots to carry out different kinds of attacks.

Is it possible for a chatbot to carry out a man-in-the-middle attack? A chatbot can be designed to appear as if it came from a reputable company. When a user interacts with the bot, he or she may be asked to share sensitive information. The malicious chatbot may also instruct clients to perform certain actions, such as clicking a link that contains a malware-infected application.

Chatbot hacking can also create “evil” chatbots. Competition between companies is reaching a high level. In order to destroy an opponent in the industry, one might end up hacking a chatbot and turn it into an evil one. 

Remember Microsoft’s Tay? It absorbed everything it learned, including the negative ones. It became a racist and anti-Semitic chatbot, which forced Microsoft to take it down.

Chatbot Security Risks

Threats

Threats are one-time occurrences that include malware and DDoS attacks. Targeted attacks against your business can lock you out of your system and be held for ransom. Hackers can also threaten to expose supposedly secure client data. Common specific chatbot security risks are:

Chatbots Risk in Healthcare

Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are flaws in the system that allow hackers to get access and expose companies to security threat occurrences. They usually happen as a result of faulty coding, inadequate safeguards, or user error. Common vulnerabilities are:

What Happens When Hackers Attack Chatbots?

While there are many benefits that businesses can enjoy by embracing chatbot technology, unprotected chatbots are themselves security risks. They are vulnerable to the same types of attacks as any other technology are.

Chatbots serve as virtual agents for businesses. But they could be security risks if the data they have access to is compromised in a data breach. A hijacked chatbot can be used for phishing.

When a representative from a reputable organization says, “Log in and follow this link”, the victim follows unsuspectingly. When the dating app Tinder was hacked, for example, fraudsters impersonated a woman using a chatbot. This malicious chatbot encouraged users to provide their payment card information to become verified on the platform.

Here are common ways malicious chatbots can cause security problems for your business:

Data theft

Chatbot attacks can result in data theft. Malicious intent can be used to modify some models. A consumer interacting with a financial chatbot, for example, could be provided a malicious link that redirects them to another webpage where credentials can be stolen. Naturally, fraudulent transactions can follow.

Dissatisfaction of customers

Chatbots can be tampered with in such a way that the user’s purpose or request is misinterpreted, resulting in an inaccurate response. Customers may get dissatisfied and frustrated as a result of this. Even worse, it could cause the system to completely fail, causing major issues with client retention.

Why Chatbot Security is Important

The “https” at the beginning of a website’s URL denotes secure sockets layer (SSL) security. This informs site users that SSL/TLS is active and that the connection between their browser and the website is secured.

Visitors can be certain that their credit card and personal information are safe online by looking for padlock or shield icons in e-payment websites.

There is no such security indicator for chatbots at the moment. You have the option of using the chatbot or not after considering the potential chatbot security risks. A hacker may theoretically hijack a legit chatbot program or chat session and steal user data without anybody noticing. The majority of users that engage with the chatbot do so because they trust the website. This is why chatbot security should be a priority to gain and retain the trust of your customers.

How to Improve Chatbot Security

To safeguard shared data and protect their clients, system administrators and network managers should consider the following chatbot security measures:

Data encryption

Chatbot security specialists recommend end-to-end encryption as one of the most reliable means of assuring security for sensitive information. It’s a standard feature of messaging apps like WhatsApp. 

If hackers or other unauthorized users walk about your network or website without permission, encryption prohibits them from viewing data. It also stops them from using the data if they are able to exfiltrate it as a result of a data breach.

Authentication and authorization

Two of the most effective chatbot security measures are authentication and authorization. It’s a default setting that every chatbot owner should consider.

Authentication verifies user identity, while authorization is a method of granting permission to gain access to a portal or carry out a certain task.

Among the specific security measures are:

Chatbot security best practices

Website SSL/TLS security

Chatbot security is aided by one of the most basic security protections for websites. The presence of HTTPS at the beginning of a website URL indicates the usage of a secure socket layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS). This shows that the website has a security certificate and is protected against unwanted access, ensuring chatbot security. 

Individuals, devices, and programs cannot access data because it’s transmitted across an encrypted connection. The content of the chat is decrypted using mathematical formulas or algorithms, which are transparent to the end-user.

Self-destructing message

Self-destructing messages are a practical option in many situations when sensitive data is conveyed. Messages containing personally identifiable information (PII) are automatically deleted once a certain amount of time has passed.

Both the user and the chatbot can be involved in the process.  For financial and healthcare chatbots, self-destructing messages are an important security practice.

Using secure processes and protocols

The HTTPS protocol and SSL/TLS certificate are the default settings for every security system. The most important thing to understand about chatbot security is that the protocols, systems, and coding used to defend chatbots are nearly comparable to those used to safeguard current operations.

These solutions communicate with platforms that already have their own security mechanisms in place. There are multiple layers of end-to-end encryption in securing chatbots.

Data storage

Companies store chatbot data for an analysis of the service. Chatbot developers analyze communications to improve a chatbot’s quality. Machine learning methods need the data to further train chatbots. The quality of chatbot service generally grows with the amount of data.

The best thing to do is to store such information in a secure place for a certain amount of time and to discard them at a later time.

Access controls

User identity verification is critical whenever a user interacts with a company’s protected chatbot. The use of a username, password, user IDs, and other secure login credentials to log into the application helps improve chatbot security. Using a security token throughout the chat session gives an extra layer of security.

It’s also a good idea to set a session time limit. If the user walks away from his computer, takes a phone call, or otherwise leaves the conversation, a pre-set time-out will immediately stop the session.

Two-factor authentication can be used to add extra protection to chatbot security systems. Such technology requires users’ chatbot platform to verify their identity by entering a code supplied to them via text, email, or phone call.

User behavioral analytics

User behavioral analytics is a security measure that is still gaining ground in the information security area. Applications that evaluate user behavior patterns can provide insights about the presence of hackers or other security issues based on odd behavior or abnormalities.

Education for both employees and customers

Because human error is one of the most common sources of cybercrime, it is critical to educate people about chatbot security problems and solutions. Hackers can have free access to a flawed system and naïve users.

Customers and staff are still the most vulnerable to mistakes. Unless everyone is taught on how to use conversational chatbots safely, security issues will persist.

A successful chatbot security strategy should involve courses on critical security issues conducted by security specialists. Training broadens your employees’ skill sets. Furthermore, it increases your clients’ trust in your chatbot security system.

Even if you are unable to train a customer, you can still provide a roadmap or directions for navigating your systems to prevent further security threats.

How to Test Chatbot Security

There are security tests to improve the integrity of your chatbot. Why do we need these tests? Chatbots are built just like any other program except that they use national language processing, which is a relatively new technology.

Chatbot Testing

As part of chatbot development, cybersecurity professionals should make it a point to test their chatbot system after its release. So here are some tests you can try:

Penetration testing

This is a technique for determining your chatbot’s vulnerability. It’s also known as “ethical hacking.” It can be done manually by security specialists or automatically by software applications.

API security testing

This method involves checking the integrity of your chatbot’s application programming interface. API is a program that facilitates connectivity interface to an application. In short, it allows two applications to talk to each other for more improved chatbot communication.

This is generally performed by security specialists with special software that helps them identify vulnerabilities that you normally can’t.

Comprehensive UX testing

A pleasant user experience is usually the outcome of a well-designed technology. It’s a good idea to do your own test if you want to get a thorough understanding of your users’ chatbot interactions. What is it like to interact with your chatbot? Is it acting the way you anticipated it to? Are there any flaws that are obvious?

Our final thoughts. Chatbots, like any other piece of digital technology, are only as safe as you make them. They have the potential to be exploited by hackers as a backdoor. They are, however, as safe and secure as any other customer-facing technology if you are willing to invest in them.

We hope this guide has provided you some helpful insight into the processes you can use to keep your chatbot system safe.

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