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Bots Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Bookings, Cause Confusion

Bots have become a huge disinformation and network congestion problem in the past few years. Now a bot army is being used to slow the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in London.

According to the London Free Press: "The online site used to book COVID-19 vaccines in the London area was attacked by “bots” Monday morning as thousands of seniors tried to register for shots, the region’s medical officer of health says."

Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for London and Middlesex County shared some staggering statistics about the attack.

“We had over 30,000 hits within the first half hour, so this morning, we did book several thousand appointments, but the website did grind slowly when it had that level of volume,” he said.

“We were able to tweak the website so that it gave people a wait time, so they weren’t blocked from entering the website because of the traffic, but sort of put in a waiting room. That allowed people a bit more clarity about when they were able to book . . . so they weren’t getting frustrated,” Mackie Said.

Edward Roberts, Application Security Strategist at Imperva says that managing bot traffic must be a critical consideration of state and local counties.

"Since February, Imperva Research Labs has monitored an unprecedented 48.8% increase in bad bot traffic on healthcare websites. It was an early indicator that a bot-driven disruption on a COVID-19 vaccine appointment site would happen eventually – especially as the vaccine became available to the general public. While there are many ‘helpful bots’ being deployed to assist people with identifying available appointments, it’s important to remember that when a site is polluted with bots, it slows web performance and makes it harder for legitimate users to access the information or services they need.

While large retail pharmacies and health systems might have the infrastructure to sustain higher volumes of traffic, smaller institutions and local governments may not. Maintaining uptime becomes a critical challenge as an influx of bot traffic and human traffic can cause a site to slow down considerable or crash. For organizations managing appointment booking sites, it’s important to monitor and analyze traffic sources, investigate traffic spikes, and proactively block hosting providers and proxy servers known to be used by malicious actors."



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