A gang of Russian ad fraud hackers are raking in millions of euros a day by faking video ad impressions, according to a new report from New York-based online security firm White Ops.
The company claims the cyber scammers behind the “Methbot” network are making as much as $5 million (€4.79 million) every 24 hours, in what it claims is the most successful fraud online digital advertisers have faced.
The botnet is made of an army of web browsers that “watch” as many as 300 million video ads a day, tricking advertisers into believing their content has been viewed by humans. The network uses a number of advanced techniques to avoid detection, including faked mouse clicks, manipulation of geolocation data and special case countermeasures against code used by ad firms to spot fake impressions.
White Ops said the network operates from as many as 1,200 dedicated servers located in data centres based in the Netherlands and the US, and that despite its size and complexity, there is no evidence that the criminal group behind the operation is state sponsored.
“Methbot elevates ad fraud to a whole new level of sophistication and scale,” commented Michael Tiffany, CEO and co-founder of White Ops.
“The most expensive advertising on the internet is full-sized video ads, on name brand sites, shown to users who are logged into social media and who show signs of ‘engagement’.
“The Russian operators behind Methbot targeted the most profitable ad categories and publishers.
“They built their infrastructure and tools and compromised key pieces of architectural internet systems to maximise their haul. Methbot is a game changer in ad fraud and further evidence that the issue of human verification is constantly evolving and innovating, not abating.”
According to a previous report from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and White Ops, bot-driven ad fraud will cost brands some $7.2 billion globally this year. The report revealed that bot fraud accounted for as much as 37% of online advertisers’ impressions in 2015, up from as high as 22% the previous year. The study also found that media with higher cost-per-thousand impressions were the preferred target of bots.
Commenting on the study, Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) CEO Mike Zaneis said its findings should be taken as a “call to arms” for the industry. “TAG was created just over a year ago to fight the types of criminal activities outlined in this report, including fraud, piracy, and malware, and the programs we’ve deployed in recent months will help the industry choke off the money flowing to criminals and create an evergreen market where marketers can be sure they are working with trusted partners.”