Guest Post

Written by Dean Chester

February 13, 2020

It seems that nowadays most companies, from the Amazon giants to the local mom ‘n’ pop shops, make at least some use of chatbots. But while extremely convenient when implemented right, these little AI helpers can sometimes add to the cybersecurity risks every company faces today. Since their purpose is to communicate with customers, sensitive personal and financial data is often interchanged through this channel — and this kind of personal identifiable information (PII) is exactly the type of gold hackers dig for.

Unfortunately, bad actors don’t differentiate between big and small businesses, so no one is inherently safe from them. In fact, smaller companies account for more than a third of targeted attacks. Every business owner can benefit from taking precautions against hacking. Here are some simple yet effective tips for you to increase the cybersecurity of your chatbot:

1. Beware the man-in-the-middle attack

A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is a popular way of illegally acquiring personal information not meant for any third-party’s eyes.

Hackers conduct this type of attack by literally inserting themselves between the two interlocutors communicating over the internet. With the sender, they impersonate the receiver and vice versa, pretending to be the other participant in order to get their hands on valuable data.

So, when a customer sends their personal information to your chatbot, a MITM can intercept their message and view it.

Moreover, the MITM can not only steal data but also alter it before sending it to the recipient. For example, a message from a bot can be changed to ask the customer for more private information which will end up in the hackers’ hands.

One way to ensure that your chatbot is safe from MITM attacks is to implement a virtual private network (VPN) solution. Best VPN services encipher the inbound and outbound traffic and send it through a secure channel that cannot be tapped by malefactors.

You can also employ end-to-end encryption as another fraud mitigation method. With end-to-end encryption, only the intended communicators can decrypt and read the messages thanks to having the personal key. Such a key is related to the public key which is used to encrypt the message for that recipient only.

2. Further increase the security of your network

Every internet user has probably noticed that some websites’ addresses are preceded by “http” while others are preceded by “https”. One small letter makes a big difference, in this case.

In short, “http” stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, a protocol that makes communication between a user and a website possible. And the s in “https” stands for “secure.”

Even in 2020, we stumble upon the odd website that uses an un-secure protocol, despite all the dangers of data snooping that come with it. Most browsers actually inform the user about which protocol is used.

Chances are when you run an e-commerce website, you’re already dealing with an “https.” However, one additional factor to check is that the “http” version of your website redirects to the secure one. You can double-check by typing http://your-website-address.com into the bar and seeing where it takes you.

3.  Restrict access to your bot

It may sound counter-intuitive, but hear us out: 

Since the purpose of a chatbot is to collect and store users’ personal data, it is always a particularly tasty morsel to hackers. Basically, if they can fool your chatbot, they can potentially access all the data interchanged through the bot.

One solution would be to make the chatbot available only to the registered users of your website. This tactic is especially effective when you require an ID to sign up.

Bear in mind, however, that some consumers perceive this measure as an infringement of their privacy. Today’s reality, though, sees a need to balance privacy with security to achieve a safe equilibrium; the key to achieving consumer trust, mitigating fraud, protecting your community, and serving your consumers’ need for convenience is to walk that fine line.

4. Eliminate idleness and enhance authentication procedures

Speaking of security, you can protect your users by making sure that if a signed-in user remains idle for too long, they’re logged out of their account to prevent any potential account-takeover threat. While security friction can sometimes feel inconvenient, these session timeouts are widely used to prevent hackers from hijacking an existing user’s session and compromising your chatbot security.

You can also enhance the precision of your user authentication procedures by implementing biometric authentication methods like voice, iris, or fingerprint recognition. This type of verification can prevent hackers from assuming the identity of your users — even if they get a hold of their credentials (i.e., logins and passwords); biometric data is among the most difficult types of data to hack.

5. Use advanced techniques against hackers

Hackers evolve their methods of fraud constantly. They work tirelessly at developing new tactics of accessing your site’s chatbot, among many other malicious activities. Businesses need to stay steps ahead of them to protect their customers and their bottom line.

User behavior analytics is an emerging trend that can help businesses prevent cyberattacks and keep their communities safe and secure. Essentially, you’re integrating yet another bot to your website — but the algorithm observes user behavior on your site and watches out for any suspicious and unusual activity.

Another method to consider is ethical hacking, AKA “pen testing.” It goes like this: You hire individuals with excellent hacking abilities to test the security of your network in the face of a real attack. Because they’re ethical hackers, you won’t have to worry about them doing any actual harm to your company. Their input, however, is invaluable because they know exactly what vulnerabilities to look for. You can use their findings to focus on closing your security gaps.

With these tips in mind, you can greatly increase the state of your chatbot cybersecurity. However, do note that the battle against bad actors is a constant one and you’ll have to revise your security practices at regular intervals.