New ad fraud studies cast doubt on billions - with a "b" - of impressions

Posted by Jeremy Spitzberg • Jul 19, 2019 5:02:44 PM

Two recently discovered malware exploits have generated billions of fraudulent ad impressions over the last few months.

First, Cofidant published a blog post with details of a Hong Kong-based ad buyer(s).

When visualized, campaign volumes associated with this attribution model paint a picture of a very active and persistent malvertiser. The two peaks below are approximately 28MM and 14.5MM impressions respectively with over 100MM impressions served this year as of mid June.
Desktop and mobile devices are targeted in relatively equal quantities, but desktop Windows and iOS are heavily favored by the attacker

Second, Flashpoint disclosed a "newly discovered malware framework is responsible for more than one billion fraudulent ad impressions in the past three months, generating its operators significant Google AdSense revenue on a monthly basis."

Flashpoint researchers uncovered the framework, which features three separate stages that ultimately install a malicious browser extension designed to perform fraudulent AdSense impressions, as well as generate likes on YouTube videos and watch hidden Twitch streams.
The framework is designed to pad statistics on social sites and ad impressions, creating revenue for its operators who are using a botnet to attack the content and advertising platforms by spreading the malware and targeting browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Yandex’s browser.

Each exploit is impressive in its scale and ability to compromise multiple facets of the digital ad ecosystem for is own ends. Taken together, and as a hint of the scale of the full problem, we are reminded of what brands are facing when trying to keep their reputations and budgets safe online.

Furthermore, it’s not just the number of impressions that should get marketers’ attention, but the need to understand how to respond to these challenges. For example, are you asking your partners about their malware detection practices, such as how often they scan creative assets or whether they employ end-to-end encryption on their platform? Most importantly, as a marketer, am I ensuring that my advertising landing pages are protected against such attacks?

It's because of issues and incidents like these that the Brand Safety Institute is dedicated to fostering a community of knowledgeable and dedicated brand safety professionals.

Topics: Brand Safety, Ad Fraud