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Unbotify, one year on: Interview with CTO Alon Dayan

It’s now over a year since the award-winning Unbotify joined the Adjust family — and it’s been a busy 12 months in the world of bot fraud. We sat down with Alon Dayan, the CTO of Unbotify, and Eran Magril, VP of Customer Success at Unbotify, to discuss changes, successes and future challenges. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Getting started

Hi Alon, Eran, what led you to the world of fighting bots and bot fraud?

Alon: “The idea actually came from Yaron Oliker, the CEO of Unbotify. Before Unbotify, he was working in a company specialising in natural language processing. He realised that if someone wanted to use bot technology to do bad things, there were no barriers to doing so.”

“He saw that the industry needs better solutions for bot protection. I had already known him a long time at that point. I was doing my masters in Computer Science and Machine Learning. So we thought about the idea of using machine learning on the behavioral biometric interactions that users do with apps. We quickly realised that it was a complete gamechanger, in terms of how difficult it would be for fraudsters to cheat. So that's the story more or less!”

Since you joined Adjust, how have you handled the switch from being a founder to being within the Adjust team?

Alon: “At first it wasn't easy, moving from being a founder who’s in charge of everything, to being an employee — it’s a shift of mindset. But I think two main things made it easier: the first was that we kept our structure intact. We are a subsidiary, but we have the same goals, the same management, the same employees and DNA — so everything stayed the same more or less.”

“Secondly, Adjust is really a good family for us. We feel welcome and safe at Adjust. I still feel like a founder, Unbotify is very important to me — exactly as it was before the acquisition. I'm working exactly the same way as before.”

Dress for success

Was there a moment when you knew Unbotify was going to take off?

Alon: “There was a moment right after we launched Unbotify, before we’d even raised money. We met the CEO of a big travel company and pitched him in Tel Aviv. He said 'Yeah, that's a really good idea, let's do a PoC’. That happened just two months after launching the company.”

“After that we understood that we had something serious here. Because if such a person immediately says yes to two random people, 'I want to do a PoC', then I knew we were onto something.”

What’s something that the average person might find surprising about bots?

Eran: “I think the most surprising thing is that people think you need to be a very sophisticated hacker [to use bots]. They have this image of who is operating bots. But it’s not the case. Still I hear this every day.”

“You just need to tap into the 'Fraud as a Service' ecosystem, and it’s all there for you. You buy a tool here, buy a dump file of passwords there, buy a stolen credit card — and then you can set up your own fraud operation very easily. The ease of it, and maybe how common using bots has become, is the most surprising thing for many people.”

Access to bots

A recent Adjust survey found that 40% of respondents had paid for bots, with an average cost of $65. Why do you think that bots are becoming so common in the gaming industry?

Alon: “Because the gaming industry is growing, it's becoming easier to get and use these bots. Making bots is becoming an industry in itself. Fraudsters actually provide ‘Bot As A Service’. As more people play games, more are willing to pay for a bot to do the farming for them.”

“It will become even easier as more bot makers enter the space. I can send you links to bot operators online and all you need to do is put in your credit card — and you can buy whatever bots you want.”

“Some people who fall in love with a game want to achieve better results in a shorter amount of time. All you need to do is launch the bot. You can do this before you go to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you have way more resources. So obviously bot usage is going to grow, and as long as the industry is growing and more people are playing, you're going to see more bots.”

Israel is host to plenty of start-ups at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI). As one of the companies in this extremely buzzy industry, are you proud to be contributing to this boom in AI?

Alon: “Definitely, this is one of the things that is part of the DNA of Unbotify. We are really a technology company, driven by artificial intelligence and machine-learning. We find many, many companies that just say 'we do machine learning', but they only have one person. And that person is just researching the data — and it never goes into production.”

“In Unbotify, data science is the biggest team. More than half of the company are data scientists, doing machine-learning and building models. They are experts, PhDs, there's a lot of industry experience in this field. It's exciting for us as a company but it's also exciting for new employees. When they see this, they say: 'This is what I want to do, this is real machine learning, this is real big data, this is what I was looking for, for the past five years.' So we're very excited about being part of it, contributing to it and even leading some of it.”

Back to the future

And what is in store for Unbotify in the rest of 2020?

Alon: “2020, for us, has two main objectives. In 2020, gaming is still key, but we are going to continue expanding in other verticals. We really want to completely clean the mobile gaming industry from cheaters and bots — and become the market leader in the gaming space. But because the core technology is already mature, we also want to expand our footprint in other verticals.”

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