Digital advertising security firm White Ops has uncovered ‘the most profitable and advanced ad fraud operation ever seen by the industry’.
The scam, involving automated Russian-based web browsers, is said to be stealing as much as $3-5m per day from major US media companies and advertisers.
The operation, dubbed ‘Methbot’ by White Ops based on the references to ‘meth’ in the code itself, is said to generate up to 300m fake video ad views per day by targeting premium programmatic video inventory, tricking advertisers into paying for non-human impressions. White Ops says that 6,111 domains have been victims of the operation to date.
"Methbot elevates ad fraud to a whole new level of sophistication and scale," said Michael Tiffany, co-founder and CEO 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 maximize 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."
Methbot operates hundreds of servers from data centres in the US and Amsterdam and employs a custom-written web browser to reduce the likelihood of detection. It offers fraudulent web page visits and ad impressions by posing as top websites – using a network of proxies running unique IP addresses camouflaged by false IP registrations.
The industry reacts
"The sophistication of the Methbot scam is a stark reminder of the efforts fraudsters will go to in order to make money from digital advertising," says Voluum managing director Gavin Stirrat. "A high-reward crime, with relatively low risk, will ensure that the fraudsters continue to evolve their techniques. Therefore it's increasingly important that brands and agencies demand a high level of not just fraud detection, but fraud prevention, from their demand partners."
"Although this was the most advanced botnet to hit the digital ad industry to date, if you're working with a reputable partner you should be relatively unaffected as an advertiser," says Joseph Vito DeLuca, CMO at Yieldr. "Extensive filtering and fraud detection measures and partnerships should be in place at any tech company worth working with. Therefore, the majority of worthless traffic should be caught pre-emptively."
"Due to our close partnership with White Ops, Methbot's impact on media purchased through TubeMogul is negligible," says Ryan Levitt, senior global communications manager at TubeMogul. "To date, according to WhiteOps, fewer than 0.8 per cent of impressions purchased through TubeMogul were observed to be affected by Methbot activities. This is a good reminder why prioritising media quality and fraud detection is so important, even on premium and private inventory buys."