A cybersecurity company has uncovered a massive online scam that employs botnets to siphon millions of dollars of advertising revenue per day, in what appears to be the biggest advertising scam known to date.
New York-based firm White Ops says Russian hackers are using botnets which it has dubbed as “Methbot,” to fake views of as many as 300 million video ads per day and trick advertisers to pay for views that were computer generated clicks, and were never seen by humans.
“Using an army of automated web browsers run from fraudulently acquired IP addresses, the Methbot operation is ‘watching’ as many as 300 million video ads per day on falsified websites designed to look like premium publisher inventory. More than 6,000 premium domains were targeted and spoofed, enabling the operation to attract millions in real advertising dollars,” the White Ops report says.
The company says that Methbot’s coders built many of the network’s tools from scratch — including the Web browser that spoofs websites displaying video ads. These include fake versions of publishers like CNN, the New York Times, BuzzFeed and Mashable; platforms like Facebook, Yahoo and Quora. As a whole, hackers have amassed more than $180 million in profits since launching the operation in September.
“This is an attack perpetrated against the entire industry,” says White Ops CEO Michael Tiffany. “It was robbing both advertisers and publishers, and it was operating at a level of sophistication that’s just unheard of.”