In our previous blog, we discussed scalper bots, what they are, what they do and the impact they’ve had on the latest PS5 launch. We are now looking into the industry surrounding these bots, and delving into who exactly uses scalper bots and why.
What does the bot industry look like in 2021?
Our threat research team is seeing the development of sub-industries within the bot industry. Some groups are focussed not on developing bots for their own use, but simply developing them to sell to other users or groups. Increasingly these developers are competing with each other for the best performing bot, or even selling bot consulting services and training courses to others, promising to help bot users improve their profits.
Groups that charge for their memberships have adopted the sorts of offerings we see with more mainstream businesses, such as different subscription models with varying costs, trial periods, pay-as-you-go services, and providing members with support helplines to assist them with their technical challenges. Some of these are even 24/7 and multi-lingual to cater for a global customer-base.
This increasing specialisation of sub-industries and the adoption of the norms of professional businesses is a pattern we predict will persist as the markets and profits continue to grow.
Who uses scalper bots?
Scalper bots are growing in popularity and more people, from various walks of life, are acquiring and using them. Increasingly we are seeing ordinary people who have never used or considered using bots before trying to purchase and use them.
They do so because they see this as the only way to compete with the bot users who are snatching up all those hot-ticket items. However, when it comes to serious bot users, we can generally divide them into three main groups:
Elite Bot Teams
These are small groups of dedicated bot users, often consisting of no more than 20 people. For them using bots to scalp products for their resale value is a full-time job. They are dedicated, professional, and able to accurately predict what the next big “drop” will be.
Aside from those big-hitting public items like PS5s, they often hit somewhat less obvious items (like celebrity-endorsed shoes, rare trading cards, jacuzzies, gym equipment, cars, and even heated toilet seats). These groups typically operate across international borders buying stock from one country where supply is high and reselling in another country where supply is lower to maximise profits.
Cook communities are in many ways the opposites of the elite bot teams. Rather than a small, professional, focussed team they tend to be much larger groups of loosely aligned bot users, who combine their more limited resources and skills in larger numbers to make them competitive within the bot scene.
These groups are as varied as bots themselves. Some are nationally oriented and focussed on a single country, whereas others are global. Similarly, some target a single type of product (such as sneakers) whereas others are more diverse and look for anything that could turn a profit. These communities vary in size from a few thousand members, up to and exceeding 20,000. Often collections of individuals within this community will form a splinter-community for the duration of a single product “drop”. The individuals who make up these communities tend to be semi-professional and hobbyists, rather than professional full-time bot users.
Hybrid groups are the most rapidly growing of these three types of bot groups. As the name suggests, they are a combination of cook communities and elite bot teams. They generally consist of a core group of members who function as an elite bot team, with less professionalised peripheral members surrounding them. These peripheral members generally pay a subscription service to be a part of the group.
When not working on the latest big drop, the elite bot team provide their skills and resources to the less skilled and well-resourced peripheral members and in return get the subscription fees to either pocket or invest into the drops, which in turn leads to more purchases and more profit. The peripheral members, meanwhile, are rewarded symbiotically by benefitting from the greater skills and resources of the core members and sharing in the profits.
Now that we’ve set the scene, exploring the scale of the scalper bot threat and the make-up of those operating them, in the third and final part of our blog series we will discuss the various types of scalper bots.
Putting a stop to scalper bots
Stopping scalper bots is important to online businesses. Failing to do so can have an immediate impact on infrastructure costs; bots tend to make many more requests than normal users and so can quickly put pressure on websites, particularly when used in large numbers. In extreme cases this can even take down websites during high-profile events like big releases or sales.
The activity also poses a real threat to a brand reputation when legitimate customers can’t get products due to scalpers. They are both frustrated and more likely to turn to competitor sites in future. Bot management is an integral part of dealing with these larger risks, and of tackling the more focussed dangers associated with specific types of scalper bots.
Netacea delivers technology designed to protect websites from bot attacks. Netacea’s revolutionary approach to bot management empowers businesses with control over automated bot traffic, with the ability to detect bots and block malicious traffic in real-time.