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Bot Manager: Staying Ahead of the Bot Landscape

Akamai launched Bot Manager three years ago. Since then, the bot landscape has continued to evolve and we've introduced a number of improvements to our bot detections to stay ahead of it. These included browser fingerprinting and behavioral anomaly detection, as well constantly refining our core bot detections such as request anomaly.

One lesson learned from having a wide range of both basic and advanced bot detections at our disposal is that thinking of the bot landscape as homogeneous paints an overly simplistic picture. There's isn't a single bot interacting with your website; there's a crowd. Additionally, the individual bots in that crowd have varying levels of sophistication, in terms of their footprint, their behavior, and the technology that they use to try to circumvent bot detections.

Perhaps unintuitively, that means that simple signature-based detections remain useful, especially when they are continuously updated by threat research. These detections often identify up to half of the bots that we see going to any customer's site - even when looking at higher value pages such as login and account creation pages. However, that doesn't paint the whole picture either. Simpler bot detections can remove the cruft - and there's a lot of cruft - but the bots that remain can have an outsized impact. Consider credential stuffing and account takeover - it only takes one bot to successfully validate thousands of account credentials to have a huge impact on your bottom line.

A signature-based approach will always reach its limit, because signatures are created by humans. When looking at a vast sea of data, humans can identify trends. Yet, finding a needle in a haystack may rely on a result from luck - and luck isn't repeatable. This is why Akamai complements signature-based detections relying on humans with other detections that employ machine learning to sift through the vast amounts of data on our platform. For example, Bot Manager Premier's behavioral anomaly detection analyzes hundreds of behavioral signals from a client and compares it to the universe of known good (i.e., human) behavior from legitimate clients that we see.

What often gets overlooked with machine learning is the importance of data. Most conversations try to compare the algorithms (i.e., my algorithms are better than yours) which, unless you're a data scientist, can be a pointless conversation. Instead, consider that the output of any machine learning algorithm will only be as good as the amount and quality of data that feed it. This is where Akamai can provide an outsized advantage - especially with bot detections that are made stronger by the visibility and data on the platform. As part of the March Release, Bot Manager Premier is introducing two new advanced bot detection technologies - unsupervised device anomaly and adaptive anomaly clustering.

The notion of device anomaly detection is not new. For example, many bot detection vendors look at the browser user agent, using human analysts to build rules that define legal user agents. However, the human-based approach is subject to several pitfalls, including being limited to a few obvious properties, requiring continuous overhead to manually update, and being subject to spoofing.

Bot Manager Premier's unsupervised device anomaly is designed to avoid those pitfalls by using an unsupervised machine learning approach to identify illegal device properties and attributes. It automatically analyzes signals across the device stack, including hardware, OS, application, and network - not only for legality, but also for overuse from a statistical perspective. For example, a spike in the occurrence of certain device characteristics that is typically only seen in a fraction of a percentage of the population. This type of detection can only be effective (and accurate) on a platform the size of Akamai's, which interacts with over 1.3 billion unique devices every single day.

Adaptive anomaly clustering works a little differently. This detection technology does not look for specific characteristics. It is not constrained by its human creators' preconceived notions of what characteristics, signals, or patterns indicate a bot. Instead, it employs a combination of unsupervised clustering coupled with deep learning to examine all of the available signals and look for clusters of signals that are out of step with the population as a whole.

Consider a more tangible example - if you walked into a room and saw a person wearing a blue shirt, you wouldn't think that anything was amiss. Likewise, an algorithm that identified inappropriate attire based on preconceived notions of propriety would not flag a person wearing a blue shirt - because it's an entirely appropriate choice of attire. However, if you walked into a room with a hundred people wearing the same blue shirt, your human instinct would tell you that there's something going on. Yet, that algorithm would miss it - because each person is making an appropriate choice. This is precisely the scenario that adaptive anomaly clustering is designed to address.

Device anomaly and adaptive anomaly clustering are excellent examples of how machine learning on the Akamai platform can be so much more powerful due to the amount of data that can be analyzed. 1.3 billion clients a day. 178 billion WAF rule triggers an hour. 77 Tbps of traffic on the platform.  Each of these stats are impressive on their own, but what they hint at is much, much bigger. Visibility drives data, and data drives intelligence. It is the scale of Akamai, and our unmatched visibility into both threats and legitimate traffic, that drives the continuous evolution of our bot detection capabilities as well as our ability to continue protecting customers against the always-changing bot landscape.

To find out more about Bot Manager Premier and other security updates, please visit https://www.akamai.com/us/en/release-notes/mar-2019.jsp

 

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