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- Virus Guy
March 20, 2013, 2:33 am
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Google's billion-dollar empire is based on fraud.
Most of the web's commercial ecosystems are based on this fraud, and
Google plays a key role.
Hacked PCs falsify billions of ad clicks
By Tim Bradshaw in San Francisco and Emily Steel in New York
Online investigators have exposed a network of hijacked computers that
defrauded advertisers by generating billions of fake ad views.
The so-called botnet scheme, which hijacked 120,000 residential PCs in
the US and cost advertisers millions of dollars a month, highlights the
increasing complexity and opacity of online advertising.
Spider.io, a London-based start-up that tracks web browsing activity,
estimates traffic from the “Chameleon” botnet accounted for almost
two-thirds of the total visits to certain websites. The inflated number
of page views increased advertising revenues for the websites’ owners.
In a report published on Tuesday, Spider.io said the hijacked PCs
generated up to 9bn ad views or “impressions” every month across a
network of more than 200 sites. Sophisticated software even mimicked
cursor movements and mouse clicks, giving the impression that potential
consumers were visiting the sites.
“It is difficult to imagine why one would run this type of botnet across
a cluster of 202 sites other than to commit display advertising fraud,”
Douglas de Jager, Spider.io’s chief executive, said in the report. The
websites that attracted the traffic charge an average 69 cents per
thousand ad impressions, meaning the botnet is costing advertisers about
$6m a month.
Mr de Jager told the Financial Times that the scheme was just one of
many that the online advertising industry had been fooled by – or had
chosen to ignore: “We have already identified at least one other large
and wholly distinct botnet – targeting a wholly distinct cluster of
Spider.io did not disclose which sites received the botnet traffic. But
industry executives identified sites owned by San Francisco-based
Alphabird, such as ladyshopspot.com, as among the recipients.
Advertising space on Alphabird’s sites is sold indirectly through
Alphabird described itself as a victim of the scam, noting that it pays
for advertising slots on other websites and did not know it had received
“We buy a lot of media from lots of different people at very high
velocity,” said Alex Rowland, Alphabird president. “Anyone that has any
significant scale in this marketplace knows that this is a problem in
online advertising. Some of these actors are very sophisticated in how
they disguise this traffic.”
The issue raises new questions about the controls used by ad technology
providers, especially given the ever-changing tactics employed by cyber
criminals. Networks of hijacked computers have previously been used to
overwhelm a website with traffic, after which botnet operators sometimes
demand a ransom to halt the attack. They also frequently seek to collect
large numbers of credit card details.
But as online security improves and such attacks become easier to track,
botnets are being compared to “victimless” crimes such as insurance
fraud – where large numbers of people lose small sums of money, with few
of them ever realising they have been ripped off.
Christian Carrillo, a vice-president at DataXu, a digital advertising
technology provider, said the fraud could be hard to prosecute even if
its perpetrators were tracked down, because of the terms of trade in the
online ad business.
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