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Cost of Bots report – are we winning the war on bots?

In 2021, Netacea published its Cost of Bots report. We already knew bots were a nuisance to both businesses and their customers—buying up stock, sniping auctions, scraping con and so on—but the report set out to establish more about the cost to businesses.

What could businesses tell us about the revenue they have lost, the effect on their reputation, and the bad decisions based on bad analytics, all due to bots.

The results were startling. The report found that bots were costing businesses around 3.6% of their revenue, potentially enough to mean the difference between profit and loss.

It also found that there was a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of bots and how to prevent attacks— making tackling this problem even more difficult.

It found that attacks were focused on websites rather than mobile apps and APIs, or at least, that’s where businesses were detecting them.

2021 was a time of flux, of lockdowns, furloughs, and home working. A lot of predictions were made as to how this would change cybersecurity.

There was some evidence that bot use was on the increase, media reports of members of the public buying and reselling goods using bots to make a living, and worries that hybrid working would mean a huge spike in online criminal activity. Was this part of a long-term trend, or just temporary?

A year on, Netacea renewed the research to see what what has changed. Has remote working led to a new wave of bot attacks? Is there a better understanding of how these attacks work? Are businesses fighting back, or losing the war?

Is the bot war being won?

Can we say that businesses are winning the war against bots? Not quite—at least, not yet. But there’s a suggestion that the tide is starting to turn.

Many of the findings in this report could be read as a failure of those being attacked to face up to the problem. But what if the opposite is in fact true.

A growing understanding and increased investment in bot mitigation means that businesses understand the threat better than ever. As a result, they are uncovering more bot threats and identifying where they are being hit hardest.

There is also a better understanding of where bots can attack. Last year’s report showed that bots were focused on websites with only a few attacking APIs and mobile apps.

This is shifting, partly due to a better understanding and because businesses are playing whack-a-mole: as they shore up their defences in one place, attackers will look elsewhere.

But the fact that businesses are seeing these attacks is reassuring, the first step towards containing them. Also encouraging is the news that budgets have increased.

Understanding the problem is all very well, but investment is necessary to fix it.

Other results, such as an increase in dissatisfied customers and the impact of skewed analytics can also be explained by better understanding. But we can’t cheer too loudly, not yet.

In many ways businesses are not pushing back hard enough, and in others they are losing ground.

Bot attacks go undiscovered for an average of 16 weeks, up from last year, meaning bots are free to wreak havoc for far too long.

And while there are fewer businesses believing myths about bots, far too many still have an incorrect understanding of where attacks come from, how they work, and what can be done to mitigate them.

Overall, this year’s results are cause for muted optimism. We are moving in the right direction in the fight against bots. But to win, we need to move faster.

Netacea conducted this survey in collaboration with independent B2B research specialist Coleman Parkes. The businesses surveyed had turnovers ranging from $350 million to over $7 billion.


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