Ad Fraud and the Bots Gaming Digital Advertising
Recently, the IAB published recommendations put together by a Traffic of Good Intent (TOGI) task force, whose mission is to identify, understand and raise awareness of the issue of non-intentional traffic, and to offer insight and recommended solutions to the digital advertising industry.
The document listed the following ways that fraudsters get paid from gaming the system:
- Selling cheap traffic to publishers wishing to extend their inventory.
- Selling their own robotic inventory to buyers through an exchange that is unaware of the traffic source.
- Becoming part of a legitimate network that pools inventory for buyers. The legitimate network is often unaware of any foul play.
- Creating a network by infecting legitimate sites with bot code, known as a “botnet,” that generates traffic for which they can bill.
- Making ad calls that serve ads one behind another (stacked) or into 1×1 pixel frames, creating hidden ad inventory that generates false impressions from both human and non-human traffic.
zveloLABS researchers noted many similarities between the bots used to dilute the perceived ROI of ad campaigns and those tied to the proliferation of non-advertising related malicious code.
Like malicious attacks, ad fraud occurs largely because consumers are tricked into visiting fake, compromised or malicious websites to install toolbars and other bad software. Once malicious code is in place, web browsing sessions can be hijacked to run behind-the-scenes or while a PC or mobile device is dormant resulting in an inflation of ad views and clicks. This ad fraud activity is very difficult to detect.
zvelo has long offered malicious website detection capabilities and in 2013 to-date, it received tens of billions of URL categorization requests for malicious categories, which included:
- Botnets – web pages, compromised web servers or devices running software that is used by hackers to send spam, phishing attacks and denial of service attacks.
- Command & Control Centers – Internet servers used to send commands to infected machines called “bots”.
- Malware Call-Home – Web pages identified as spyware which report information back to a particular URL.
- Malware and Distribution Point – Web pages that host viruses, exploits, and other malware.
Other malicious categories within the zveloDB® URL database included Phishing/Fraud – with fraud in this case referring to web pages and emails used for fraudulent purposes – Compromised, Spam and Spyware & Questionable Software.
Trust is on a noose within the online advertising community. Much of the battle in detecting and deciphering between valid and fraudulent ad traffic will take place outside of lines of code and within the more human aspect of the business – honest relationships. Intra-organizational training and abiding by anti-ad fraud guidelines and best practices set forth by the IAB and other similar entities all over the world will be more critical than ever. Establishing a common understanding of real ad campaign success metrics between buyers, publishers and ad networks when measuring ROI – focusing less on easily manipulated metrics like ad views, clicks to a website, click-through rates, and bounce rates and more on human-initiated engagements like actual purchases – will also help the industry ride out the ad fraud tide. Online advertising is intended to garner human eyes after all, is it not? Industry players are kidding themselves if they settle for anything less than that.