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A new report shows that more than half of Internet traffic comes from bots — software applications that perform automated tasks for almost anything you can think of on the internet.

Bots are so prevalent in the digital media ecosystem that even the most sophisticated publishers can't avoid them. The good news is that the increase in bot traffic last year was mostly due to the addition of good bots in the ecosystem, while bad bot traffic remained nearly the same.

(function () { var attempt = 0, init = function(){ if (window.pym) { var pymParent = new pym.Parent("2017-02-04-internet-robots", "https://graphics.axios.com/2017-02-04-internet-robots/internet-robots-chart.html", {}); } else if (attempt++ < 40) { setTimeout(init, 50); } }; init(); })();

Data: Imperva Incapsula Bot Traffic Report. Based on 16.7+ billion visits to 100,000 randomly-selected domains on the Incapsula network; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Good bots: Almost a quarter of internet traffic is good bots, which monitor or enhance the web. Common examples of good bots are "spiders," which Google uses to map the internet to expand their search results, and "feed fetchers,"which Facebook uses to refresh your newsfeed on mobile. Together, Google search "spiders" and Facebook "feed fetchers" make up over 8% of all web traffic.

Bad bots: Bad bots are typically used to steal content from websites, mimic websites to capture ad dollars, create spam pages to collect user data, or shut down websites by overwhelming them with traffic. According to the same study, commissioned by cybersecurity firm Imperva Inc., bad bots make up nearly 30 percent of all internet traffic, and the majority of them impersonate real websites or people to bypass security measures. In December, White Ops, a cybersecurity firm focused on malware and ad fraud, uncovered the largest bad bot criminal ring in history, called the "Methbot." Methbot stole millions of advertising dollars, mostly from ad networks, by recreating common websites and stealing their ad traffic and revenue. White Ops Senior Director Mark Schlosser tells Axios that cybercriminals in the ad space have become so advanced that the traffic they steal "is able to fake all key advertising metrics including clicks, viewability and even simple email signups."

Why it matters: The Association of National Advertisers and White Ops estimate that bots cost advertisers more than $7 billion in revenue annually. Most ad fraud occurs in the programmatic space, where ads are purchased through an automated bidding system. Sophisticated ad agencies will place trackers on ads that enable them to only bid on quality inventory, which saves their clients money and makes for more effective ad campaigns. One of Washington's largest advertising agencies tells Axios that they have dozens of team members working to ensure advertising is seen by real people, not bots. "The investment we have made in technology to ensure we aren't buying fraudulent traffic is extensive," says Ben Coffey Clark, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive. "It's a trust we take very seriously."

Go deeper

3 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.

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