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Imagine if nearly two-thirds of the world's population were actually robots indistinguishable from humans, and a big chunk of them were trying to mess with you. That pretty much sums up the state of affairs on the internet today, according to a new study that found bots now make up 61 percent of all web traffic.
While it's not much of a surprise that fake web users are overrunning cyberspace, the latest report from Incapsula, which looked at 1.45 billion bots from 20,000 websites over three months, points out some interesting trends going on in the mysterious non-human sector of the internet.
For one, bot traffic is on the rise, up 20 percent from last year. But most of that increase is from "good" bots—tracking tools like web analytics or search engine indexing. Meanwhile, the number of malicious bots has stayed pretty steady, but hackers, scrapers, and imposters are getting smarter.
The report found that just over 30 percent of web traffic comes from malicious bots, which can take the form of scrapers that copy and steal a website's content, hackers that steal credit cards or inject malware, spammers posting fraudulent links or fake comments, and impersonator bots that sneak into websites to steal secrets or launch DDoS attacks.
That last bunch accounts for most of the hostile bot traffic, and is up 8 percent since last year. Impersonators bots are getting good at masquerading as real people or "good" bots to get past security. These are elite bots, considered the highest tier in the hierarchy of the nefarious side of the bot-verse.
So, if we go back to the real world analogy, robo-people are infiltrating the criminal underground. But the bot economy is taking over legitimate industries too. They're stock brokers: About 70 percent of high-frequency trading on Wall Street is computerized bots. They're ad men: Online advertiser bots automatically make bids for each real human's web visit, and are even sticking dollar values on our heads.
They’re also spies. Tracking bots, the so-called good kind, follow users around as they surf the web amassing information on people’s browsing behavior to create an online profile that’s shared among other bots. When last year’s Incapsula report first dropped the news that bots made up over half of web traffic, Big Think explained:
To a larger degree than we might realize, our social identities online are in the hands of algorithms and bots … Whenever we use Facebook, algorithms known as Edgerank and Graph Rank have already filtered and ranked the information that we see on our Timeline. Whenever we use Google, the ubiquitous Google PageRank algorithm has ranked, filtered and displayed the results that Google thinks are most appropriate, based on our prior Web behavior. When you consider that social networking and search are the two primary ways that we make sense of the Internet, it’s a sobering thought that bots and algorithms have created a shadowy "algo-world."
Increasingly, this “shadowy world” of 1s and 0s is taking over the one controlled by real people. In the digital realm, humans better get used to being the minority.