Newsflash: Ruskies bilking U.S. advertisers out of millions
Scam involves using automated browsers to generate impressions
December 21, 2016
The election apparently isn’t the only thing the Russians are meddling with.
A ring of cybercriminals from Russia is ripping off some $3 million to $5 million each day from premium video sites, according to a new report from White Ops.
The anti-fraud firm says that the ring has been using automated web browsers, forming them into a bot farm called Methbot to siphon the money from advertisers.
The complex operation goes something like this.
First, the ring acquired more than 600,000 IP addresses, apparently by hacking regional internet registries. It matched those to legit service providers such as Verizon and Comcast to make them appear to be regular internet users.
Disguised, these bots generated hundreds of millions of video ad impressions daily.
Those impressions were generated on counterfeited sites the Russians set up to look like legitimate ones, such as ESPN, Huffington Post, Fortune, CBS Sports, Vogue, The Economist and Fox News, just to name a few.
Advertisers thought they were buying impressions on the real sites. What they actually got were the bogus impressions generated by the fake users on the facsimile sites.
So, in essence, advertisers paid for impressions that don’t mean a thing, because they were not seen by real people.
White Ops estimates that the scam has cost advertisers millions daily and say it included more than 6,000 sites.
An expansive operation
As of earlier this month, the Russians were still doing this. White Ops stumbled upon the scam in September of last year, when it noted the mutation of a bot designed to create the ad impressions. It’s not clear how long the scam has been going on, but it’s been at it over a year and traffic exploded in October.
White Ops dubs it the most sophisticated ad fraud scheme ever perpetrated. It released the information about it because the fraud is so pervasive, affecting so many sites and using so many layers of deception.
The fake IP addresses were even coded to demonstrate mouse movements and social media participation in the hopes of avoiding detection.
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