Online advertising is one of the most vital drivers of traffic for internet businesses. From gaming websites like vulkan-vegas.pl in Poland and other parts of the globe to shopping platforms and even fintech companies, advertising is usually a key element of their success. However, ad fraud has plagued the online advertising industry ever since it launched in the early 2000s. Fraudsters have been getting better at cheating the system for ill-gotten gains.
Ad fraud rings have grown to become a billion-dollar industry, and the numbers just keep going up as technology continues to advance. Unfortunately, as ad companies develop new ways to combat ad fraud, so do cybercriminals. The most common ways fraudsters try to wrongfully gain from ads is by installing malware on unsuspecting users’ devices and exploiting them without the device owner’s knowledge.
So how can digital marketing networks fight against ad fraud rings? The key lies in detecting suspicious activity before it’s too late. If you are an advertiser or publisher, here’s how you can secure your business against ad fraud rings and save substantial amounts of money in the process.
Understand How Ad Fraud Rings Work
Since it’s not easy to tell whether there is direct human interaction behind a click, impression, traffic or data event, publishers have to first identify the methods used to perpetrate ad fraud before they can mitigate the situation. Some of the most common forms of ad fraud include:
- Domain spoofing
- Cookie stuffing
- Ad stacking
- Ad injection
- Geo masking
Switch to a Different Revenue Model
Most advertisers pay publishers by the number of clicks or impressions generated from the traffic that seems to be directed at ads on sites. Unfortunately, this makes it slightly hard to tell who is behind the other side of the transaction. So, setting key performance indicators and paying for conversion rates rather than clicks will discourage fraudsters from targeting your ads and tricking a company into paying for non-human traffic.
One of the most famous ad fraud rings ever recorded was Methbot which used legitimately existing IP addresses to generate fraudulent traffic. The solution to shutting down the network was to block some of the IP addresses used to shrink their reach.
Of course, many factors will lead to genuine IP addresses being included on a blacklist, especially with users increasingly opting to use VPNs to protect their privacy. However, it is still worth a try, and like in the case of Methbot, it can help prevent billions of dollars from ending up in the wrong hands. Additionally, publishers and advertisers must keep a close eye on newly blacklisted IPs to ensure that they have an updated list.
Use Signature and Anomaly-Based Detection Methods
The thing about bots and malware is that they tend to overdo things when it comes to how many clicks and actions can be performed over a long time. For instance, signature-based detection methods will flag suspicious traffic by analyzing patterns. On the other hand, anomaly-based detection methods will be on the lookout for unusual activities such as a sudden spike in traffic and the placement of ads in unlikely spaces on publisher sites.
Another method closely related to signature and anomaly-based methods is the credential-based method. Through this method, you have the capacity to stop fraud that would otherwise go undetected if you only used the other methods. The technique entails performing a comparison check on an ad’s impressions versus the requirements stipulated by an advertiser. For example, one attack that would be prevented via the credential-based method is cookie stuffing.
Sometimes, setting a trap is the only way to catch cybercriminals adamant about carrying out ad fraud. You could do this by setting up genuine-looking ads (known as magnet honeypot ads) that attract scammers. Once they fall for the bait, they become vulnerable to exposure as information can be collected on their activities in a bid to stop them at a future point. The other upside is that the honeypot can serve as a distraction for the fraudsters and delay them from launching attacks on real targets.
With the cost of ad fraud rising by the day, it is vital that publishers and advertisers stay aware of the potential risk and introduce safeguards for their funds and clients. As it stands, the implications of doing nothing are not only financial, but they also come at a cost to a company’s brand.
Besides boosting security and preventing unnecessary headaches, curbing ad fraud will increase revenue for both actors and improve the relationship between publishers and advertisers. Ultimately this leads to tremendous benefits for the open Web. Nonetheless, the fight is far from over as ad fraud rings always look for new ways to remain undetected as they continue to benefit from genuine digital marketing businesses. As such, advertisers and publishes must stay vigilant!