Some bots are good, but most bots are not – and Distil Networks, which announced $21 million in Series B on Tuesday, has its eye on the latter.
The round, led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with pinch hitting from Foundry, TechStars, ff Venture Capital, Idea Fund and Correlation Ventures, brings Distil’s total funding to $38 million.
“We take a proactive approach to tracking the bad guys,” said Rami Essaid, CEO and co-founder of Distil Networks, which uses a so-called fingerprinting technology to identify bots beyond their IP address.
“Rather than playing a game of whack-a-mole where you have to catch the same bots over and over again every time they change their IP, we build a fingerprint of every incoming connection so once we catch them, they’re caught,” Essaid said. “Then we disseminate that information to every one of our customers.”
Distil – whose client base includes AOL, StubHub, easyJet, Glassdoor, CrunchBase, Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, Staples, Thomson Reuters, Wayfair and others – plans to use a portion of its fresh funding to double its headcount to around 200 by end of year with an even mix of sales, marketing and engineering hires across its two main offices in San Francisco and Arlington, Va. A London office is in the works.
Ramping up product development is also a top priority. At the moment, Distil only supports bot detection on the desktop web and the mobile web, although Essaid said the company is planning to announce a product to handle bot detection in native apps by the end of the year.
Distil monitors the entirety of a site’s incoming traffic, looking at everything from mouse movements and navigation path to how long it takes a visitor to move from page to page, correlating that information with data points like country of origin and time of day. From there, Distil looks for behavior anomalies compared to the majority of the site’s normal traffic.
Distil’s engineers also set little traps for potential bots, “things like hidden links, form elements and honey paths that are hidden from real people,” said Essaid. The traps are triggered when Distil identifies behavior that seems more bot-like than human – a sort of obstacle course of Turing tests.
So far, Distil has amassed a database of more than 50 billion malicious bots and counting.
In the rare case of a false positive – according to Essaid, Distil erroneously pegs a human as a bot at a rate of less than one in 10,000 – a visitor will be asked to validate their email address or fill out a quick CAPTCHA before being returned to the normal browsing experience.
Although Distil makes the majority of its revenue, which has grown 400% year over year since the company was founded in 2011, from roughly 40 large enterprise clients, it also works closely with about 1,000 SMB websites. And that’s because bad actors often target small and medium-sized sites as a testing ground for new nefarious bot creations.
“SMBs are as much of a target as anyone and sometimes, actually, an easier target,” Essaid said. “If we can catch new and emerging threats there first, we can catch them before they hit the bigger guys.”
Distil’s Series B is only the most recent example of financing in a flurry of recent funding events for companies in the online security space. Within the last year, White Ops snagged $7 million, Are You a Human secured $4.2 million and anti-malware and bot company Shape Security raked in $40 million.
Essaid is pleased that the industry is taking notice of a problem that’s “scamming advertisers out of billions of dollars every year” – according to Distil’s own estimates, bad bots are responsible for 22% of all Internet traffic – but he’s a bit wary of what he describes as a “song and dance he’s seen before.”
“The sword waving and clamoring that’s happening right now isn’t necessarily enough to get everyone on board to fix the problem just yet,” Essaid said. “But at least it’s providing an impetus for the investment community.”