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ad-fraud

Ad Fraud: The Digital Advertising Industry’s Biggest Battle Yet to Win

That’s the estimated amount of money advertisers are expected to lose this year because of ad fraud. While ad platforms are getting better at detecting such fraud, fraudsters are also coming up with more innovative, hard-to-detect ways to commit fraud. These days, fraudsters employ a variety of sophisticated techniques to fool advertisers. Even modern ad fraud bots have become sophisticated. These bots have authentic user/device IDs, that can perform complex actions, and mimic human behavior almost perfectly. Entire communities of cyber criminals, backed by handsome development budgets, are engaged in ad fraud. Using Google Ad Traffic Blocking is a good way to protect your ad campaigns, but it is not enough. Let’s understand how: Loopholes In the Google Ad Traffic Blocking Google Ad Traffic Blocking allows you to block ad traffic from specific sources. This means you can block traffic from known sources of fraudulent traffic. While this sounds great in theory, this strategy has a number of problems: – The list of sources of fraudulent traffic is constantly growing. Nearly half of the traffic on the web is bot traffic, and bad bots account for 39% of this bot traffic. As you’re reading this, there are hundreds of fraudulent websites being created. By the time you add new websites to your ad traffic blocking list, new ones will already be in operation. – Many advertisers depend on their Google Analytics data to detect fraudulent traffic sources and use Google ad blocking to prevent their ads from appearing on these websites. This isn’t a sustainable strategy. It is almost like you are paying the ad platform to learn about fraudulent traffic sources. Depending on the size of your ad budget, such a strategy can potentially cost you thousands of dollars every month. – The combination of Google Analytics and Google Ad Traffic Blocking only works for sites using simple bots. It is much more difficult to detect the activity of sophisticated bots manually. – While Google does not release how it tracks fraudulent clicks, many experts believe it uses IP addresses. If that is the case, fraudsters can simply change their IP address and avoid being included in the Google Ads exclusion list. Marketing professionals and ad platforms realized long ago that they must evolve to put an end to ad fraud. To that end, there have been a number of innovative attempts in recent years. Let’s examine some of these and determine if they are truly effective. Methods Used by Marketers and Ad Platforms To Combat Ad Fraud 1. Ads.txt Ads.txt is a public text file that allows publishers to identify themselves as authorized publishers and prevent spoofed inventory. Unfortunately, the use of Ads.txt did little to stop ad fraud. Besides major sellers like Rubicon, most publishers also allow other “resellers”. You can find these resellers in almost every Ads.txt file. These resellers are not required to disclose the names of the advertisers, they are selling their traffic too. This means that they could be reselling the same traffic to you and some other parties. Moreover, fraudsters have found many ways to conduct fraud using Ads.txt files. 404 bot is one of the most famous instances where fraudsters have launched entire bot networks designed to surpass ads.txt protection. 2. Play Protect Play Protect was another initiative by Google, designed to potentially prevent the release of fake and malware apps on the Android Play Store. Play Protect scans applications for malware and other threats before allowing them to become available for download on the Play Store. While this effort did stop some obvious forms of malware and fraud on the platform, it has not been very effective. The proof of the same lies in the fact that there have been many cases of ad fraud on Google’s Play Store and even Apple’s App Store in the recent past. 3. Fake Account Prevention Just like Google ads face issues with fraudulent publishers, social media platforms are plagued by fake accounts. The issue got serious attention when the Elon Musk-Twitter deal almost fell through because Twitter (allegedly) failed to disclose the real number of fake accounts on the platform. Social media platforms claim that they routinely run checks and purge fake accounts on their platforms. However, new fake accounts pop up just as quickly as old ones are removed. While it is true that creating fake accounts is relatively difficult these days, it is still easy enough to be done at a scale. Why Is Ad Fraud Hard to Stop? Ad fraud is hard to stop for multiple reasons. For one, there are significant monetary benefits associated with successfully committing ad fraud. This motivation makes fraudsters stay committed to finding new ways to steal advertisers’ money. Another hard reality is that some ad platforms may let a small percentage of bad traffic through to inflate numbers. After all, the only one losing money because of ad fraud is the advertiser. Finally, as fraud techniques and bots become increasingly sophisticated, detecting, and preventing fraud will only get more difficult. So, what are advertisers supposed to do? Should they accept that they cannot do anything about ad fraud? Quite the contrary. Just like fraudsters have committed teams and communities constantly finding new ways to commit fraud, you need a team on your side that is committed to preventing said fraud. mFilterIt’s ad fraud detection tool enables the detection and prevention of invalid traffic in real time. In other words, with mFilterIt, you can not only identify bot traffic coming to your ads, but you can also prevent its impact, essentially saving your precious ad budget. Our tool employs AI, ML, and data science capabilities to detect and prevent ad fraud. Conclusion Ad fraud is constantly evolving, making it incredibly difficult to detect and prevent. However, combating ad fraud isn’t impossible. Advertisers need to go beyond traditional methods to survive in this ever-evolving digital ecosystem impacted by malicious elements like bots. With an advanced ad fraud solution, advertisers can ensure that sophisticated bots cannot sneak under their noses pretending

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Are Your Digital Ad Campaigns Safe from Sophisticated Bots?

The digital world is evolving rapidly, and marketers are moving from traditional platforms to digital platforms. But in this growing digital ecosystem, someone is hiding behind the screens to disrupt your growth. Behind all the pros of digital advertising, a manipulated truth is that marketers are unaware of who is coming to see their ad campaigns. To throw light on this, ad fraud solution providers have come into the limelight to validate how much invalid traffic is coming to the ad campaigns. However, just when the marketers were ready to combat ad fraud, cybercriminals expanded their fraud zone with sophisticated bots. Unlike the general bots, the sophisticated bots can replicate human behavior and hide easily behind the cloak of genuine traffic resulting in manipulated data. This again makes the marketer’s ad campaigns vulnerable to ad fraud. What is the solution?  Advanced Problems Need Advanced Solutions Once a sophisticated bot penetrates your digital ad campaign, it will not just impact one KPI but also manipulate your entire sales funnel and manipulate the data. For example, if you’re running an impressions campaign then first it will inflate the number of impressions with bot traffic. And once that is done, they will impact your hard KPIs like lead, conversion, or install. The result is that you not only waste your ad spend on invalid traffic but also open the gateway to your brand assets for the sophisticated bot army to attack and destroy. Thus, it is important to get a full-funnel ad fraud detection tool instead of a solution that covers just one KPI. Know in detail about the different types of sophisticated bots that are hard to detect on the web and app. And for the advanced solution, stick with us till the end of this blog. Sophisticated Web Fraud Techniques That Are Hard to Detect Imperceptible Window To improve the CTR of the site, the  fraudsters open the advertiser’s landing page to a zero-sized pixel. However, the end-user is unaware of this and when they visit the website it is registered as a click in google ads platform. The advertiser ends up paying for these clicks/visits which were not even seen by the user. Example of Page View Fraud In the above case, the user didn’t click on the advertisement, but a click has been registered. As the window size is imperceptible for the user, they are unaware of this case. Generally, it is difficult to detect these anomalies without the help of advanced data analytics capabilities. Cookie Stuffing Cookie stuffing is organic theft where a website drops one or more third-party cookies onto a user’s web browser. An Iframe of ‘0x0’ pixel is used to dropping a cookie to hijack the organic user. These malicious cookies thus incorrectly attribute the organic traffic to the fraudulent affiliate. In the above example, we have incorporated a mFilterIt pixel which drops a randomly generated cookie whenever a user visits the advertiser’s website for the first time. Upon the return of that user, the same cookie value indicates the return of the same user. We also observed that despite faking or rotating the IP, the bot device is returning the same cookie within a gap of a few minutes. Bot User Fake users or Bot emulated users usually don’t have any mouse movement or touch interactions. They are also programmed in a way where they don’t react to the advertiser’s landing page. In this case, where there is no user interaction, we use the capabilities of Machine learning algorithms combined with captured values like configurations, plugins, device settings, canvas fingerprinting, etc. This helps to analyze the bot patterns and cases where the clicks bots are happening at a high probability. With the help of AI, ML, and data science, we detected approximately 32k such cases just in the pilot phase. Sophisticated App Fraud Techniques That Are Hard to Detect Click Spam Click spamming starts when a user downloads an infected app on their device – or visits an infected mobile website. These infected apps are usually downloaded outside the walled gardens of the Play Store and IOS app store. The infected app has built-in code which is programmed to create clicks on ads or allow external devices to click within the app. The app works normally on the user’s device, except for the tiny code running click-spam activities in the background. This fraud technique generates click spamming from the user’s device without their knowledge. And the advertisers are under an impression that the clicks are generated by real users. Example of Click Spam In this case, clicks and installs are high whereas the conversion rate is as low as 0.01%. This is a clear case of click spamming. These clicks were generated in a time period of 9 days from Thailand. Surprisingly, the total clicks are equivalent to the population of the country. This kind of CTIT curve is often overlooked by the attribution platforms due to the clicks being refreshed in the background. At mFilterIt, we track the click patterns in case of click generating from the same device ID. Event Spoofing Event spoofing is one of the advanced fraud techniques used by fraudsters to manipulate the install data of advertisers. In this case, the fraudsters programmed bots that can fire fake clicks in the background to capture the events. This eventually leads to an event being spoofed and attributed without a legitimate install. This results in the advertiser believing that a legitimate install happened. However, in reality, no event has occurred. The events like bookings, purchases, signup, registration, etc. are required to be analyzed thoroughly to identify in-app fraud. Example of Event Spoofing In this case, the CTIT is distributed within a few minutes, which is unusual. The normal traffic pattern is spread over as the conversion time is usually not in the control of the publisher. mFilterIt’s Full-Funnel Model – Our Advanced Solution How We Protected a Global Pharma Player Across the Funnel A premium pharma company noticed that their impressions were high, but the number

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How To Combat Bot Traffic with Google Analytics?

The word ‘Bot’ can be both good and bad in the digital marketing ecosystem. There are good bots like the search engine crawlers which help to improve your website performance. On the other hand, there are bad bots that are used by cybercriminals to commit unethical activities like ad fraud and stealing advertisers’ ad spends. Half of the internet’s traffic consists of bots, of which 65% are bad bots. In recent events, bad bots have costed brands more than just money. The latest news of Elon Musk dropping out of a $44 bn deal with Twitter due to fake accounts is a sign of how deep-rooted the issue is. As a marketer, you need to be aware of who is visiting your website. When analyzing data, it is important to ensure that your data doesn’t consist of bot traffic. With the help of Google Analytics, you can detect and filter the bot traffic to see cleaner data points. Thinking about how to detect bot traffic on Google Analytics? We have included the most common tell-tale signs to detect bot traffic on your Google Analytics. 4 Signs to detect Bot Traffic on Google Analytics 1. Unusual Traffic If your website visit increases from an average number of 1,000 to 20,000 or you see a similar spike in a short interval of time without any marketing efforts or unknown reasons, it is not good news. Your website traffic is polluted with bots if you see a sudden spike in your website traffic, and there are certain things you might notice: Page views less than 1 second on single pages No location or location set of a botnet Keyword searched or domain name with the word “Bot” 2. Unknown Referral Traffic Referral traffic refers to the traffic that comes to the site by clicking on a link in another domain or platform. It is also used as a medium for bot traffic. These sources can be detected manually on Google Analytics. Some of the common signs of bot-generated referral traffic are: Sites with spammy-looking domains Referral sites with unusually high visits 3. Unusually Low Page-Time Unlike the human way of browsing, the bots are programmed in a way that they behave in the same pattern. When looking at the Google analytics data, check for sources that have a page visit time of less than a minute. Bots are programmed to just add a visit to the page which is usually 1 or 2 seconds maximum. It is obvious that a human will not come and stay on a page for less than 1 second, and hence you can detect the traffic generated by bots. 4. Strange Metrics The classic sign of bot activity on your site is if you see something at an extreme or unusually low. For instance, if you see bounce rates of sources at 0% or 100% then there is a high chance this visit is from a fraudulent source. Is detecting bot traffic on Google Analytics enough? Google Analytics allows you to exclude bot traffic to see a clear picture of your data without fraud traffic. With the help of Google Analytics, you can get a better insight into how much website traffic is genuine to make a better business decision. This can help you exclude the bot traffic showing on your analytics data, but the real impact of bot traffic will still exist. Thus, just the bot traffic detection on Google Analytics is not enough. To protect your websites and ad campaigns from the impact of bot traffic, you need an advanced ad traffic validation suite. This can prevent bots from draining your ad budget on invalid traffic and skewing your data. Advanced Problems Need Advanced Solutions The general bots are easy to detect by analyzing the unusual bot patterns. However, the sophisticated bots are programmed in a way that they can easily replicate human behavior. And thus, an advanced ad fraud detection tool becomes necessary to combat this problem. mFilterIt’s ad traffic validation suite detects bot traffic in real-time and eliminates them to prevent further wastage of ad spends. With the capabilities of AI, ML, and data science, the solution detects and analyses the bot patterns based on various parameters and blacklists them. Takeaways There is no one way to fight ad fraud and win against the fraudsters. With the help of analytics, you can take better business decisions by excluding the bot traffic sources from your data points. With the right mix of both analytics and ad fraud detection, you can combat ad fraud attacks and ensure that only real humans are viewing and clicking your ads and visiting your website.

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Travel Meta Search Engines

Travel Meta Search Engines – How Fraudsters Are Ruining It?

After 2 long years, the travel industry is taking shape again. And this time it has come up with a hot trend. Travel metasearch engines have been in existence for quite some time. However, due to the rush among travelers in the post-pandemic era, it has become more relevant in the current times. With its core features like price comparison, it is a hotshot among travelers. And not just for travelers, these platforms offer plenty of advantages to hotels and OTAs (Online travel agencies). However, even these platforms are not safe from the cyber traps set by fraudsters. Know in detail about the travel metasearch engines and how fraud happens on these platforms. What are travel metasearch engines? A travel metasearch engine is a platform that serves as a price comparison website. The customers can compare hotel and flight prices in real-time. These platforms work like an aggregators taking data from different sources across the internet like the OTA’s (online travel agents) or directly from the hotels. However, the travel metasearch platforms are not booking channels. They just serve as a search engine platform for various travel booking channels. What is their revenue model? The revenue model of travel metasearch engines is the same as the digital advertising platforms. Their revenue comes from metrics like CPC (Cost per click), CPI (cost per impression), CPA (cost per acquisition), and hybrid ads (a combination of CPA and CPC). Is Meta Search a passing trend or future of travel? The pandemic has brought a massive change in the behavior’s of the travelers. Along with the safety and hygiene, they are looking for more flexible deals and transparency in the price when planning a vacation. To address these changes, the metasearch platforms have become more relevant with the current times. Apart from being a one-stop platform to show the best and budget-friendly deals, it is helpful across travel means and hotels. The metasearch platforms address the core problems of travel portals. After the break of 2 years, the hotels and OTA’s want to be discovered and visible to potential travelers. To fulfill this gap, metasearch offers both discoverability and visibility on its platforms. They also add important information like ratings and reviews for the travelers to make an informed decision. And with travelers taking more informed decisions and newer hotels & OTAs emerging, these metasearch platforms are here to stay for a long time. However, there is a catch. The meta-search platforms also come under the radar of cybercriminals. Fraud in Metasearch Platforms The metasearch platforms charge a cost per click or a commission from the advertisers. This offers a golden opportunity for fraudsters to exploit the system leading to the wastage of advertisers’ ad budgets and the manipulation of their data. How Does Fraud Happen in Travel Metasearch Platforms? Bot Traffic: The fraudsters program bots to engage with the links of the advertisers on the meta-search platforms. These bots generate fake clicks and inflate the click rate on the advertiser’s website. On one hand, the advertiser receives a high number of clicks, but the conversion numbers remain low. In addition to this, the advertiser has to pay for every click to the metasearch platforms. VPN Proxy: Apart from generating bot traffic, the fraudsters also use VPNs to fake locations and IP addresses. This technique makes it difficult for the advertiser to differentiate between a genuine click and a bot-generated click and they end up with manipulated data. Competitor Clicks:  In some cases, some travel websites also send bot traffic to their competitor’s listing to manipulate their data. They program the bots to generate fake clicks for the website and keep them under the impression that they are getting genuine traffic. Impact of Fraud Compromised Data: Fraudsters program bots to engage with the links listed on the metasearch engines. These bots generate fake clicks which makes the advertiser believe that they are getting traffic. However, despite the high number of clicks, the travel platforms do not see any improvement in conversions. Influx in CTR: Due to the impression generated by bots, the CTR is impacted directly and misleads the advertiser. They are under the impression that they are getting genuine traffic. Whereas the reality is that they are only getting invalid traffic. How can we make a difference? We use the capabilities of AI, ML, and data science to detect bot patterns in the traffic coming from the meta-search platforms. With a deep analysis of the data, we identify the fraudulent IP addresses and blacklist them. This ensures that they will not impact the traffic of the advertiser in the future. Final Words Travel is all set to see massive growth after a halt of two years. And while it is an opportunity for hotels and OTAs to gear up and bring more traffic to their website, someone is watching their every move. Fraudsters are not just stealing money from ads, but they are also on a spree to manipulate the growth of advertisers listing themselves on metasearch platforms. To ensure that your money is not wasted on invalid and non-converting traffic, get in touch with an ad fraud detection & prevention solution provider like mFilterIt and weed out fraud from your campaign data. Get in touch with our experts today!

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You Asked, We Answered: Most Searched Questions About Ad Fraud

Whether you’re an advertiser, publisher, or user, it is natural to have questions about the growing threats of ad fraud. As the digital marketing world is moving ahead, the fraudsters are also becoming smart and coming up with new techniques to defraud marketers. Just like taking preventative measures against ad fraud is important, it is also essential to stay updated with the terms and techniques fraudsters are using. To ensure this, we have covered the most searched questions about ad fraud to help you understand the nitty-gritty of the techniques and tools used by fraudsters. Get ready to binge-read! What is ad fraud? Ad fraud is an attempt to defraud advertisers to steal money and manipulate their data with invalid traffic. The fraudsters usually use bots to perform ad fraud and trick the advertisers into thinking they are getting genuine users. As a result, the advertisers lose their ad revenue on invalid traffic. Furthermore, seeing the inflated traffic the advertisers think their ad campaigns are working and continue to invest in bot-impacted ad campaigns. According to a Juniper Research report, ad fraud is estimated to cost up to $81 billion by the end of 2022. What is bot traffic? Bot traffic consists of automated traffic coming from bots instead of humans. Every traffic generated from bots is not always fraudulent. Sometimes the search engines send bots to crawl the websites for ranking purposes. However, bot traffic is a concern when it is used as a carrier of ad fraud. Often called SIVT or sophisticated invalid traffic. The bad bots manipulate the data of an ad campaign and commit types of ad fraud like SDK spoofing, fake clicks, and fake installs. How to detect bot traffic? Some of the common ways to detect bot traffic that can be identified on websites, apps, and APIs are: Abnormally high pageviews Abnormally high bounce rate Inflated traffic from unknown locations Abnormal session durations High number of junk conversions What is Impression Ad Fraud? Impression means the total number of times an ad was displayed regardless of whether the ad was viewed or not. Impression fraud happens when the fraudsters create a fake website and list themselves on an ad exchange. When an advertiser buys an ad inventory on these websites, they generate impressions with the help of bots. The inflated impression numbers make the advertisers believe that their ad campaign is getting traffic. Wherein, the reality is that the ads are attracting bot traffic, and the fraudsters are getting money for invalid traffic. What is Ad Stacking? This is a type of mobile ad fraud where the fraudsters ‘layer’ or ‘stack’ multiple ads above one another in single ad placement. While just the top ad is visible to the user, the impression or click is registered for all the ads stacked beneath each other. This further lead to advertisers paying for a fake impression or click. What is VPN Proxy Click Fraud? A VPN is used to create a new IP address and mask the original location of a person. This is a strong tool for fraudsters to hide their tracks of ad fraud practices. With the help of a VPN proxy, they create a new IP address which helps them to keep themselves hidden from the ad fraud detection solutions. The fraudsters use this technique to mask their device location and commit fraud. What is Fake Attribution? A fake attribution is a practice followed by fraudsters to steal the credit of an organic install by reporting a fake click as the last engagement. Being the “last-click attribution”, the attribution platforms consider a fake click as an organic click. Usually, a fake attribution is triggered with a help of malware that comes along when a user installs an app from an unknown source. The malware helps to track the user’s activity and notifies the fraudster when the app install starts. The malware search for the relevant information and populates into a fake click report to register as the last click engagement and gets the attribution for an organic install or one generated by a media partner. What is cookie stuffing? This is a technique used in affiliate marketing fraud where a fraudulent affiliate fools the advertiser into thinking that they have sent traffic to their website. But in reality, they haven’t sent any traffic. This practice is also known as cookie dropping and is one of the commonly used techniques in affiliate marketing. By fooling the advertiser, they get the commission for sending a user to their website. Furthermore, the advertiser is wasting money and getting no users in return from their affiliate campaigns What is Ad Pixel stuffing? The technique of pixel stuffing happens when fraudsters place an ad or an entire website inside a frame of 1×1 pixel using an iframe. This makes it invisible to the human eye. When a normal ad runs, the impressions are tracked for the legitimate ad, as well as the ads that are stacked under the invisible pixel. In this way, the fraudsters receive compensation for those fake impressions. Furthermore, they also use bots to generate fake impressions with the pixel-stuffed ads and drain the advertiser’s budget on invalid traffic. What is Incent Fraud? This is a type of fraud where the fraudulent affiliates run non-incent campaigns on incent platforms. Due to this, they attract low-quality users that install only for incentives and have no interest in the actual app. This technique is usually used to increase the install volumes, fix low CR ratios, moderate the quality of user acquisition, or simply increase the margins. What is Click Injection? This is a sophisticated form of click-spamming which is majorly prevalent in android devices. When a user downloads a malicious app, they allow the fraudsters to detect when any other app is downloaded on a device. Once they know that, fraudsters trigger a click before an install is completed. As a result, the fraudster receives a credit for the install that appears legitimate and results in a CPI payout from the advertiser. What

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