If you have attempted to buy concert or sports tickets online in the past few years, chances are that it was an enormously frustrating experience thanks to automated bots.
Ticket scalps have existed since the first sell-out event, though the internet has turned them from an annoyance into a dominant force. According to new research out this week, 40 per cent of all online ticket booking is now done by automated software so they can be resold for more later – and that's despite laws being passed specifically to tackle the issue.
There is a huge amount of money to be made in grabbing tickets to popular events and then reselling them with a mark-up. So much so in fact that bot-probing biz Distil Networks warns that 78 per cent of bots are so sophisticated that they are not detectable: they emulate the same behaviors as human users, and so make it extremely difficult to cut them off, and allow actual people in. Distil has skin in this game, with mitigations to sell, so take this study as you wish.
While 40 per cent suggests you still have a good chance to grab a ticket for your favorite band, we're told that's only the average. When ticket scalps are confident that an event will sell out, it becomes next to impossible to make it through: Distil notes that it saw a 99.96 per cent bot percentage on one ticketing domain.
It's not just grabbing tickets, either. According to Distil "bots are also used to conduct seat map inventory scraping, fan account takeover, credit card fraud and other nefarious activities that directly harm consumers." In other words, some of those behind the automated software are allegedly edging into increasingly criminal behavior.
There is even an online store where people can buy ticketing bots to use themselves – something that apparently even legitimate corporations are doing in order to bag the best seats at events.
As for who is up to all this nefarious, infuriating activity: it is a specifically North American problem. Distil says the USA accounts for 67 per cent of all bots, with Canada next with 18 per cent. To arrive at its conclusions, Distil looked 180 ticketing domains over 109 days at the end of 2018, and analyzed over 26 billion interactions.
The big question of course is: what can be done? For the average user, nothing, but Distil has eight recommendations for those running ticketing sites:
- Block, or enforce strong CAPTCHA protections for, out-dated browser versions: a big percentage of the automated bots use virtualized browsers with old version numbers
- Block specific hosting providers and proxies that are used by scalpers: the report names names: Digital Ocean, OVH SAS, OVH Hosting, Choopa, and GigeNET
- Lock down APIs and mobile apps, not just websites, from automated abuse
- Actively monitor site traffic for bots
- Focus on traffic spikes
- Watch for failed logins – they can often indicate bot activity
- Follow recent data breaches in case login information is compromised
- Create an actual strategy focused entirely on fighting back against bots
Will companies actually do this? After all, a sold ticket is a sold ticket.
Distil gives some good reasons why ticketing sites should, of which two stand out: one, the activity is becoming increasingly criminal; and two, it really, really annoys loyal customers and fans if they can't buy tickets because some bot has got there first. ®