TubeMogul announced today that it identified three botnets that are driving fake views to digital video ads.
The company is sharing the results publicly (available for download here) to protect brand advertisers globally. TubeMogul will continue to add to this “hit list” of infected sites as new botnets are discovered.
Present since the early days of the Internet, botnets are computers hijacked by viruses that are programmed to visit specific sites to artificially inflate their traffic — and the number of ads they can sell. As a result, botnets create a black market of fake viewers.
“Brand advertisers pay a premium for video advertising and deserve complete candidness about botnets, which impact the entire industry. We are proud to be the first advertising software company to take an open-source approach and share the results of our efforts with others. As a buy side technology we are laser-focused on finding the most effective ad spots for advertisers and blocking bad actors,” says Brett Wilson, CEO and Co-Founder of TubeMogul.
TubeMogul’s efforts to root out deceptive practices date back to 2011, when the company was the first to coin the term “fake pre-roll” and brought attention to the practice of marketing cheaper banner inventory with video ad content playing automatically as pre roll inventory. To combat botnets, the company formed “Operation Clear Sky,” an initiative with a dedicated team of data scientists and engineers. The Clear Sky team created a model to identify fraud in video ad auction data, such as an abnormal use of proxies, among other signals. TubeMogul also works with 3rd party verification partners that use various approaches to vet inventory.
Brief descriptions of three botnets discovered by TubeMogul:
Blog Bot: So-called because this botnet runs across a network of low quality blogs that use the same layout. These sites are pirating legitimate video content to create over 31.7 million fake video ad impressions available for buying per day.
411 Bot: after inquiries from TubeMogul to several major video ad exchanges, this network of sites is largely dismantled. The botnet is named after a network of sites that feature “411” in their URL (i.e. “411news.net”). Before it was taken down, over 2.5 million fake views per day were available for buying on the major exchanges.
Annex Bot: over 54.2 million non-human impressions are available for buying on the major exchanges per day. The botnet is named after several heavily-trafficked sites that feature “annex” in their URLs.
Data from Operation Clear Sky shows that botnets are more sophisticated than has been previously reported. By using proxies, for instance, the Blog Bot botnet can make one hijacked computer appear to be hundreds and even thousands of viewers.
TubeMogul’s findings also indicate that botnets are infecting third-party data that advertisers use to target ads to specific viewers (e.g. cat lovers). Botnets do this by visiting sites where data companies are known to collect demographic and behavioral data, for example a blog for expecting mothers. Every day, data companies are selling infected audience segments. TubeMogul’s data indicates that six out of ten of the top botnet-infected audience segments are targeted at women, who are more expensive to reach online than men.
“Botnets are not limited to one ad network or exchange platform, but are present at every level of digital advertising,” says Jason Lopatecki, Chief Strategy Officer of TubeMogul. “It is clear that advertisers need technology partners that do not have a vested interest on the supply side, but are continually focused on finding the ad spots with the most impact. Third-party audience segments should ultimately be verified by third parties such as Nielsen or comScore.”
TubeMogul is an enterprise software company for digital branding. By reducing complexity, improving transparency and leveraging real-time data, our platform enables advertisers to gain greater control of their digital video advertising spend and to achieve their brand advertising objectives. TubeMogul was incorporated in 2007 and is based in Emeryville, California with operations in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.