Bot activity on the internet has reached an all-time high as a report by Imperva shows that close to half of the activity on the internet in 2022 was carried out by bots, marking the lowest human internet traffic in eight years.

Bots taking over the internet

According to Imperva’s Bad Bot Report 2023, which examines bot activity on the internet for the previous year, traffic generated by bots on the internet has increased by 5.1% since the year 2021 to 47.4% resulting in a new human traffic low of 52.6%.

Over the years, internet users have embraced and employed bots for their ability to carry out a variety of tasks diligently, swiftly, and efficiently. Due to their importance for digital assistants, search engines, and other similar tools, bots are widely regarded as beneficial.

However, not all bots are good. There exists the bad kind, which are software programs capable of swift abuse, exploitation, and attacks.

Since they can interact with internet applications in the same way as legitimate bots and users do, bad bots are used to target websites, mobile apps, and APIs to carry out campaigns like web scraping, data mining, brute-force attacks, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), transaction fraud, and more.

Based on the Imperva report, of the total bot activity, bad bots have continued to increase and now account for 30.2% of all internet traffic. Since Imperva began reporting in 2013, bad bot traffic has been noted to be steadily increasing over the past four years and reached its peak last year.

Karl Triebes, senior vice president and GM of application security at Imperva said “Bots have evolved rapidly since 2013, but with the advent of generative artificial intelligence, the technology will evolve at an even greater, more concerning pace over the next 10 years.”

He added:

Year-over-year, the proportion of bot traffic is growing and the disruptions caused by malicious automation results in tangible business risks – from brand reputation issues to reduced online sales and security risks for web applications, mobile apps, and APIs.

The report additionally noted that malicious bots are becoming tougher to detect as they get more complex. So-called “advanced” bots accounted for 51.2% of all problematic bot traffic, up from 25.9% a year earlier.

“This is a concerning trend for businesses as advanced bad bots use the latest evasion techniques and closely mimic human behavior to evade detection by cycling through random IPs, entering through anonymous proxies, and changing identities,” the researchers concluded.

An upcoming menace for all industries

Imperva recorded that 35% of all bot attacks in 2022 had an application programming interface (API) as their primary target, and 17% of those attacks originated from bots employing “business logic.”

A business logic attack is an attack that targets flaws in the design and implementation of an application. Such flaws can be exploited by attackers to manipulate legitimate functionality and achieve various types of malicious goals such as stealing sensitive data and gaining illegal access to user accounts.

The internet also saw a 155% increase in account takeovers last year which accounted for 15% of all login attempts made in 2022. Bots mostly are employed by cybercriminals for account credential stuffing and brute force attacks since automation can swiftly cycle through credentials until successful.

While the world, in general, suffers bot attacks in every industry, the majority of bad bot activity in 2022 occurred in Germany, Ireland, Singapore, and the United States, where attacks on the travel, retail, and financial sectors suffered in high volumes.

Additionally, the healthcare and law and government sectors saw a significant increase in the number of malicious bot attacks whereas the industries with the highest percentages of malicious bot traffic on their websites and applications were gaming with 58.7% and telecoms with 47.7%.

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