Digital Advertising

David Hahn of Integral Ad Science on Botnets, False Impressions, and Fraud Prevention

david hahn123 David Hahn is SVP, Product Management at Integral Ad Science (formerly Ad Safe Media). Their media valuation platform is the only solution that scores and evaluates the brand safety, context, viewability, and many other elements of web pages on an individual page level. The Makegood recently spoke with David about how Integral is working around the clock to help curb advertising fraud.

The Makegood: Thank you for a eye opening presentation and slideshow. Fraud is definitely one of the major problems in the industry today, what people are involved with it and what roles do they play?

In today’s digital world, fraud is everywhere and everyone who is buying or selling ads is either intentionally or unintentionally involved in ad fraud in one way or another. If you are buying ads directly from a publisher or through networks and exchanges or if you  are a publisher selling your owned and operated media or buying media elsewhere to extend your audience, you are an active participant. The main offenders, those who are knowingly exploiting the system, are:

1. Those who knowingly generate and make money off non-human (bot) traffic. These are botnet operators and “hackers” who leverage the high demand for impressions by infecting machines and then instruct those machines to generate exorbitant amounts of traffic to ad-supported sites and load a huge number of ads, which are then dumped to and sold in exchanges and are never seen by humans.

2. Publishers who buy traffic to expand their reach from unreliable sources and either turn a blind eye or know that the traffic is illegitimate.

3. Publishers who build websites that stack ad impressions on top of each other or serve ads into invisible placements so they never have the opportunity of being seen by humans.

The Makegood: How do the Botnet operators establish themselves? What do they gain from this, and at what scale?

Establishing a botnet operation requires two steps: one technical and the other financial. The technical step is relatively simple and only requires an hour of a decently skilled developer’s time to set it up and then to maintain it.

For botnets to generate “revenue,” it’s necessary for the operator to hook up to traffic and money-laundering channels, possibly involving several layers of middlemen. However, even this step is not too sophisticated because most botnets are operated in countries tolerant to this kind of business activity.

Botnet operators get paid indirectly by advertisers who serve ads on sites that are set up to be “visited” by bots. Additionally, they get paid by publishers who turn a blind eye and buy their low-cost, high-volume traffic or host their traffic on their network.

The Makegood: What is Integral doing to help mitigate this terrible situation? What can your average consumer do to help?

Integral Ad Science provides real-time impression level fraud prevention. Our solution effectively identifies infected machines (bots) as well as looks at every single ad call to prevent impressions from being served to fraudulent placements. We do this in a number of ways across the entire ecosystem. Our tag- based products work with buyers and sellers as well as prevent ads from being served to fraudulent impressions, and our pre-bid products allow platforms (i.e., DSPs, SSPs, exchanges) to identify the impression as fraudulent before it even gets bid on.

The average consumer could help fight fraud by being more vigilant and getting as much protection for their computers as possible by using newer versions of software, installing antivirus software, and not falling prey to suspicious offers to download free software.

The Makegood: Besides the perpetrator, who in the advertising industry holds most of the blame for this epidemic? Who can do the most to help stop it?

We can only truly blame those who knowingly exploit the system. However, the innocent bystanders can step up and take action as well.

Today, most advertisers and agencies use attribution and performance metrics, which are easily gamed by bots. This is a disservice to the advertisers as well as the industry. Advertisers and agencies that focus only on volume and audience as primary success metrics regardless of how the ad is delivered and the environment where the ad is served are unintentionally helping digital fraud flourish.

On the other hand, publishers who buy cheap traffic or actively design pages that defraud advertisers, as well as platforms that are not proactively taking action to stop fraudsters from exploiting their platforms are knowingly perpetuating fraud in the industry.

The entire ecosystem needs to educate itself and fight back by using the latest technology to protect itself and, in turn, put the fraudsters out of business.

The Makegood: Considering how easy it is to commit ad fraud, is a world without ad fraud even possible? What would that look like?

We don’t think there will ever be a world with zero fraud. It will always be a technological arms race between the “bad guys” and those who come up with solutions to fight back. As the industry is becoming more aware of the problem, and as more advertisers and publishers take action to protect themselves, anti-fraud solutions will become the norm for both buyers and sellers and the fraud levels will become more manageable.

The Makegood: Thank you, David