While you read this article, be aware that a number of non-human “bots” are here, too, and they probably outnumber you by a healthy margin.
That’s according to a study conducted by Incapsula, a web security service, which earlier this week released results concluding humans only account for 38.5 percent of all website traffic on the Internet. In other words, 61.5 percent, or nearly two-thirds, of all web visits are made by Internet bots, a name given to a wide range of software applications that crawl and interact with the web on behalf of their human owner.
At first blush the news sounds like the dawn of a Terminator-style, made-for-Hollywood script, but there’s no need to panic. Slightly more than half of the non-human traffic can be attributed to search engines and other “good bots,” which, among other things, index pages and generally make the Internet easier for humans to sort through and find what they’re looking for.
Incapsula blames the remaining 30.5 percent of non-human web traffic on so-called “bad bots,” a more nefarious group responsible for everything from posting spam comments and links, to stealing data and distributing malware.
One such bot, featured in a Wired article earlier this month, infects PCs to generate fake page views that can then be sold for advertising. The software is so sophisticated it contains its own anti-virus mechanism that can root out and destroy competing malware.
The figures are based on data collected over the past 90 days from its clients’ 20,000 websites. The group registered 1.45 billion bot visits in traffic from 249 different countries.
According to Dr. Ian Brown of Oxford University’s Security Center, the data should be approached with some skepticism, as Incapsula’s “own customers may or may not be representative of the wider web.”
“There will also be some unavoidable fuzziness in their data, given that they are trying to measure malicious website visits where by definition the visitors are trying to disguise their origin,” Brown told the BBC.