April 8, 2014:
Apernicious and sophisticated new form of online click fraud has been uncovered and it’s aimed at digital video advertisers, according to ad software firm TubeMogul. The ad tech agency has published a hitlist here of websites that are contaminated with bot traffic, generating phony views on video ads for major advertisers like Nissan and Samsung.
TubeMogul, which recently filed for its IPO, said that publishing the list of shady websites at the center of the newly uncovered bot schemes is a first for the anti-fraud community. TubeMogul is calling the fraud detection operation the Clear Skies Initiative, introducing some transparency into the fight.
“Someone who operates these sites hired botnets to make them look really popular,” said David Burch, TubeMogul’s communications director. “All these sites have botnet traffic associated with them.”
TubeMogul discovered three new botnets—Blog Bot, Annex Bot and 411 Bot—that are alarming in their sophistication, TubeMogul’s chief strategist Jason Lopatecki said.
“There were three major bots identified that haven’t been reported yet,” Lopatecki said. “They’re using a number of technologies that haven’t been seen before. So the complexity is getting bigger with each generation of fraud.”
The bots generate 30 million phony video views a day, but could potentially serve 80 million fake views if unwitting advertisers bought all the fraudulent inventory. Lopatecki said that the bots enable one computer to look like 1,000, creating a thousand times more clicks with the same number of infected computers.
Also, the bots are contaminating advertiser cookie data, Lopatecki said. The bots go to sites that gather user data for advertisers—like a cars.com—and plant thousands of fake target segments. This increases the likelihood that advertisers who tap that data wind up buying fake audiences on the bots’ preferred websites.
The websites look legitimate if not generic, and videos shown are of seemingly high quality because in many cases the clips were hijacked from elsewhere online. An advertiser could be forgiven for not realizing these are mass created, spam-style websites with names like celebritygaze.com, athletestoday.com and babyraise.com.
The sites pretend to deliver audiences that advertisers covet like new moms or car buyers, but they are just faking millions of views on valuable video ads from major brands.
TubeMogul shared the list of dozens of these bot-infected sites with Adweek and it is publishing the names publicly to alert advertisers.
“People are buying traffic they don’t know is bots,” Lopatecki said.
In fact, the three newly discovered bots could make the fraudsters almost $10 million a month. TubeMogul has not been able to identify who is behind the bots, because they likely operate overseas and are well concealed.