By Matt Gillis
The competitive world of digital advertising has now created an accessible framework for fraud. The complex structure of the online advertising system has built a platform for Internet thieves who are producing drug-level amounts of money through the generation of false traffic to websites.
Because the basis of paying for Internet advertisement placement on websites depends on the site’s visitor activity, computer hackers have begun creating computer-generated visitors called “bots” that work to enhance the site’s traffic flow. When advertising space is bought, the website’s very high (although incorrect) traffic statistics attract the attention of national companies who are willing to shell out big bucks to have their message be seen. Computer hackers are then compensated by the website for their service to increase website traffic statistics using the national brand’s payments.
Sites including Songsrpeople.com, an amateur-video sharing site, have been measured to generate thousands and thousands of visitors per month, all with the help of “botnets,” which are groups of unsuspected PCs hijacked through malware infection originating from email attachments and website downloads that are controlled by computer hackers from around the world. These bots tend to go undetected as they are designed to imitate a website user’s natural behavior, navigating through several websites, watching videos, creating shopping carts and pausing on advertisements.
What does this mean for advertisers? National brands including Target, Amazon and State Farm are coming to find that their advertisements are being featured on botnet-feuled websites after it is too late, leaving them with lost money and no formal process to have it returned. To prepare for such threats, companies are now almost required to hire web-security investigators such as White Ops, who identify websites using bots in order to prevent brands from buying advertising space there.
But as advertisers continue seeking websites with high traffic flows to advertise on and communicate their message, I believe that the presence of bots will most likely grow exponentially. The greater the demand for high traffic flow means the greater the demand for botnet-feuled sites.
The most surprising aspect of this new phenomenon for me is the fact that national advertisers are continuing to base the purchasing of their advertising space on the number of site visitors. With the use of website data analytics, companies have the opportunity to target consumers with more accuracy than ever before according to their specific interests, age, gender and location.
Maybe the increase of bots will open advertisers’ eyes to take advantage of the larger potential of targeted online advertising instead of focusing solely on the site’s traffic flow, which, as we have learned, is usually wrong.
– Bots and Botnets—A Growing Threat. (2013, October 1). NORTON™ – Antivirus Software and Spyware Removal. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://us.norton.com/botnet/
– Stewart, C. S., & Vranica, S. (2013, October 1). Phony Web Traffic Tricks Digital Ads – WSJ.com. The Wall Street Journal – Breaking News, Business, Financial and Economic News, World News & Video – Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303464504579107082064962434