The discovery by White Ops of a Russian group running data centers in the U.S. and Netherlands that are generating between $3 million to $5 million a day in fraudulent revenue sent shoc kwaves through the ad-tech ecosystem.
White Ops, a provider of ad fraud protection and human verification services, said the so-called “Methbot” primarily targets video advertising—full-size video ads.
The fraud scheme has been operating since October, according to White Ops.
A group of Russian hackers are believed to be behind the attack, which created more than half a million fake users and 250,000 fake Web sites. Bots, which are used to mimic human behavior to dupe advertisers into paying for impressions never seen by humans, were used to view some 300 million video ads a day, according to the report.
Those bots hit publishers including The Huffington Post, The Economist, Fortune, ESPN, Vogue and social media platforms like Facebook. In all, more than 6,000 publishers were hit, according to the White Ops report.
Many industry observers are wondering how such a large-scale attack could have happened. Some blame it on the programmatic ecosystem in which anyone can acquire unsold inventory from a publisher's site — and sell it later at an increased cost, a process known as arbitrage.
In the case of Methbot, published reports indicate the Russian hackers allegedly said they had inventory on The New York Times and sold ad space to major brands. However, in reality, the ads were served on a fake New York Times site owned by Methbot.
An executive from Goodway Group weighed in on the issue, saying this type of wide-scale fraud is to be expected. “As more ad dollars feed into the programmatic ad space, fraudsters will continue to refine their capabilities to capture more and more revenue. This won't be the last time we hear of a large-scale fraud scam, so it's important that advertisers shore up their defenses to help prevent being exploited,” Goodway’s Ashton Gary, director of account strategy, told Real-Time Daily via email.
Ad exchange and marketplace Rubicon Project said it confirmed with White Ops that the anti-fraud measures it has in place have protected its buyers and sellers from the Methbot fraud operation. Michael Tiffany, CEO of White Ops, stated: "We can confirm that Rubicon Project's quality and anti-fraud measures sufficiently countered this wide-ranging scheme.”