Traffic bots: the good, the bad and the fraudulent

The Internet is a busy, busy place, full of cat videos and many other things. While many people may assume that the vast majority of traffic across the Internet consists of people, actual humans, watching those very cat videos (and, you know, other stuff too), they’d be mistaken.

In fact, Imperva’s last report on this very subject put human traffic at 51.5%. So, what’s the deal with the other 48.5%? Where does nearly half of all Internet traffic come from?


These bots can be broken down into two, distinct groups: good bots and bad bots.

Good bots are usually run and operated by organizations looking to gather information both on and about the web. They are an important part of their natural evolution and progression.

Bad bots, conversely, are the rubbish that clogs up the Internet. They swarm the web, looking for sites to hack, people to scam and defraud, spy on companies, and much, much more. The people behind these bad bots are the cybercriminals of the online world and the range and power of the weapons in their arsenal is great.

Bad bot traffic and the digital ad industry

Wherever there is money to be made, there will be people doing anything and everything they can to cheat, manipulate the system to their advantage and digital advertising is no different.

If you’re reading this you’re probably already at least vaguely familiar with the main elements of digital advertising, but to summarise very quickly: for a digital ad network (like Adcash) the customer base is split into two main groups – Advertisers and Publishers. Advertisers, being people who have ads they want to run and Publishers being the site-owners where those ads will appear.

For Adcash and many other ad networks out there, the challenge when it comes to online bot traffic is, primarily, from bots being used by fraudulent Publishers to artificially inflate clicks or impressions. If left unchecked, this kind of scam can have a serious impact on both the Advertiser running those ads and the ad network serving them.

Fighting fraud

At Adcash, we have a team, dedicated to hunting and shutting down those responsible for these kinds of scams (and many others, too – but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick to just Bad Bots). The core team is split into two groups: analysts and developers.

The analysts look at the data, identifying any unusual patterns of behavior that should be flagged or investigated. If they detect something, they ensure the relevant action is taken. The developers take these patterns and, along with the data science team, feed them into our anti-fraud tools, to help the analysts crush the bot traffic.

And, it looks like they’re doing something right. Currently, 91.8% of our traffic is “clean”. What’s more, if you compare Adcash traffic to the Internet as a whole, it looks like we’re doing something right, for sure.

It’s also interesting to look at how bot traffic impacts different verticals, as well as its country of origin.

Digging deeper

As of last month, the top of the bot traffic charts, was Shopping, with 21%, and then Games with 12%. So why are Shopping and Games at the top of the list? Well, one possible explanation is that these are verticals that see a lot of ads spend and so, unfortunately, it’s likely to see more aggressive scamming attempts from cybercriminals.

In terms of the country of origin of this botnet traffic, perhaps unsurprisingly, we see South Korea topping the list, with 16.8%, closely followed by the USA with 15.8%. These countries generate a lot of bot traffic because, typically, they have a lot of people with computers, connected to the Internet, that have been targeted and compromised so they now running bot software that is used to generate these fake impressions.

This is one of the ways bots can be used to generate fake ad impressions or clicks: you visit a site, you download and run something bad, your PC gets infected, “bad actors” then take control of your PC, to do anything from running DDoS attacks to producing fake ad impressions and clicks.

TOP TIP:  If you’re a site owner looking to get more traffic, avoid sites claiming to “deliver real users to your site”. It’s likely that they’ll be using a botnet to send fake traffic your way. And if our systems (or the systems of any other network for that matter) detect this then you could fall foul of the terms and conditions, meaning you could have your account suspended!

If you have any questions about botnets, fake conversions, malware, and what we’re doing about it, feel free to give us a shout in the comments down below and I’ll be happy to answer them.



Join the conversation


Profile picture of Abhit Upadhayay

Abhit Upadhayay on Mar 30, 2017 at 1:09 pm


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trumangift on Jan 16, 2017 at 4:14 am

Great Adcash

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Kyle Buzzell on Jan 04, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Hello Alagar, is your question regarding how Adcash works? It depends whether you are an advertiser or publisher, but in a very short description, we act as a global market where both sides to reach their profit goals. This is accomplished through our platform and self/Adcash managed accounts.

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Alagar on Jan 03, 2017 at 8:27 pm

May I know that adcash how working?

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Kyle Buzzell on Nov 29, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Thank you Alex, hope you're winning the 'game'.

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Alex on Nov 28, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I can't agree more with you on this one, Kyle "there is no quick, one-time fix. It will always be a game of cat-and-mouse"

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Kyle Buzzell on Nov 10, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Hello Alex and thanks for your feedback. You're right on, India is definitely a member of the "big four" when it comes to bot traffic. I can't go into particulars, but I can confirm that we supplement manual analysis with a combination of 3rd-party and proprietary systems. As for fingerprinting, it is a solid tactic to use. For 3rd-party systems, it is important to balance resource load vs. benefit, e.g. what additional programming resources are needed to properly integrate the system with yours and maintain it. Regardless of tools and tactics, the most important point is that there is no quick, one-time fix. It will always be a game of cat-and-mouse...sometimes the cat will win, other times the mouse will, but the game must go on!

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Alex on Nov 10, 2016 at 11:49 am

Thanks for the read. You've highlighted an interesting but a slippery topic. bots are indeed a major problem for ad networks as they're an easy and lucrative way for fraudulent publishers to earn cash quick. I would also add India as one of the top botnet traffic sources. I've been struggling to fight bots on my online projects and would like to know how you guys are handling them. I've tried heat maps but they only work on smaller scales. Have also learnt that there's a solution called fingerprinting - it's replacing cookies with permanent link tracking. THere are a few solutions out there, like, or and Forensiq. Was curious to hear your stand on fingerprinting and maybe an advice on choosing among those tools. Thanks

Profile picture of Kyle Buzzell

Kyle Buzzell on Sep 27, 2016 at 3:36 pm

You're absolutely correct Guitar-Online, I think the key here is that the industry average should not be acceptable. While it may be impossible to wipe-out fraud completely, if a network is committed to providing clean traffic, it is possible to get close. Thanks for the feedback!

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Guitar-Online on Sep 27, 2016 at 10:00 am

Very interesting topic. Scary to see that half of the traffic comes from bots. Seems like you're doing a pretty good job with the bad ones

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Kyle Buzzell on Sep 12, 2016 at 8:08 am

Thank you for the feedback Hollywood.

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Hollywood Movies on Sep 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm

i love adcash.. :D specially the direct ads parts... thanks for amazing service.

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redsunjhon on Aug 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm

great site

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