Threat Intelligence, MSSP, MSP

Imperva: Nearly Half of Internet Traffic is Bots

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Nearly half of all internet traffic came from bots during 2023. That’s the findings from MSSP Imperva, a Thales company, in its 2024 Bad Bot Report.

Imperva found that 49.6% of all internet traffic originated from bots in 2023, marking a 2% increase over the previous year. This was highest level of bot traffic Imperva reported since it began monitoring automated traffic in 2013.

Imperva noted that web traffic associated with "bad bots" grew to 32% in 2023, up from 30.2% in 2022. Meanwhile, traffic from human users decreased to 50.4%.

Automated traffic is costing organizations billions of dollars annually due to attacks on websites, APIs, and applications.

“Bots are one of the most pervasive and growing threats facing every industry," said Nanhi Singh, Imperva's general manager of application security. "From simple web scraping to malicious account takeover, spam and denial of service, bots negatively impact an organization’s bottom line by degrading online services and requiring more investment in infrastructure and customer support. Organizations must proactively address the threat of bad bots as attackers sharpen their focus on API-related abuses that can lead to account compromise or data exfiltration.”

Why MSSPs and MSPs Are Concerned About Botnets

Because botnets can lurk undetected in an organization’s computer network for years, they can eventually exploit a vulnerability to potentially launch a full-scale cyberattack and infect an entire IT network.

There are two classes of botnets, according to Jim Broome, president and chief technology officer at MSSP DirectDefense. He explained them to MSSP Alert in an article earlier this year. Those bots are those that attack apps and those that attack humans through personal computers and tablets. When an MSSP walks into a new engagement, they likely have no idea of what might be lurking in that organization's IT estate.

“The problem is, you may inherit a legacy technology that is currently not adequate enough to protect against either current generation or last generation's antivirus or botnet persistence,” Broome said. “You are constantly coaching the customer that they need to install the new stuff (i.e. cybersecurity technologies).”

Singh believes that automated bots will soon surpass the proportion of internet traffic coming from humans, changing the way that organizations approach building and protecting their websites and applications.

“As more AI-enabled tools are introduced, bots will become omnipresent,” Singh said. “Organizations must invest in bot management and API security tools to manage the threat from malicious, automated traffic.”

Bad Bots Abound

Here are more key trends identified in the Imperva report:

  • Global average of bad bot traffic reached 32%. Ireland (71%), Germany (67.5%), and Mexico (42.8%), saw the highest levels of bad bot traffic in 2023. The U.S. also saw a slightly higher ratio of bad bot traffic at 35.4% compared to 2022 (32.1%).
  • Growing use of generative AI connected to the rise in simple bots. Rapid adoption of generative AI and large language models (LLMs) resulted in the volume of simple bots increasing to 39.6% in 2023, up from 33.4% in 2022.
  • Account takeover is a persistent business risk. Account takeover (ATO) attacks increased 10% in 2023, compared to the same period in the prior year. Notably, 44% of all ATO attacks targeted API endpoints, compared to 35% in 2022. Of all login attempts across the internet, 11% were associated with account takeover. The industries that saw the highest volume of ATO attacks in 2023 were financial services (36.8%), travel (11.5%) and business services (8%).
  • APIs are a popular vector for attack. Automated threats caused a significant 30% of API attacks in 2023. Among them, 17% were bad bots exploiting business logic vulnerabilities —a flaw within the API’s design and implementation that allows attackers to manipulate legitimate functionality and gain access to sensitive data or user accounts.
  • Every industry has a bot problem. For a second consecutive year, gaming (57.2%) saw the largest proportion of bad bot traffic. Meanwhile, retail (24.4%), travel (20.7%), and financial services (15.7%) experienced the highest volume of bot attacks. The proportion of advanced bad bots — those that closely mimic human behavior and evade defenses — was highest on law/government (75.8%), entertainment (70.8%) and financial services (67.1%) websites.
  • Bad bot traffic originating from residential ISPs grew to 25.8%. Early bad bot evasion techniques relied on masquerading as a user agent (browser) commonly used by legitimate human users. Bad bots masquerading as mobile user agents accounted for 44.8% of all bad bot traffic in the past year, up from 28.1% just five years ago.
Jim Masters

Jim Masters is Managing Editor of MSSP Alert, and holds a B.A. degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University. His career has spanned governmental and investigative reporting for daily newspapers in the Northwest Indiana Region and 16 years in a global internal communications role for a Fortune 500 professional services company. Additionally, he is co-owner of the Lake County Corn Dogs minor league baseball franchise, located in Crown Point, Indiana. In his spare time, he enjoys writing and recording his own music, oil painting, biking, volleyball, golf and cheering on the Corn Dogs.