One Year Later: DrainerBot Exposed – an audio event about ad fraud

January 21, 2020 | 5 minute read
Kori Wallace
Content Manager
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Ad fraud is a real threat to consumers, despite the common notion that it only affects advertisers and publishers in the digital media ecosystem. Uncovering the severity of this issue was last year’s discovery of DrainerBot. This fraudulent bot infected various mobile apps, driving up data charges for thousands of innocent smartphone owners.

Looking back and reflecting on the DrainerBot operation, this audio event highlights the real problem of ad fraud as it persists today, how it touches consumers, and just how deviant and far-reaching the hackers behind the curtain can be. Join host Kori Wallace as she explores the massive mobile ad fraud operation. She interviews key players continuing to fight to expose the bad guys and protect the innocent.

You’ll hear from:

  • Dan Fichter, VP of Engineering for Moat by Oracle Data Cloud, who explains the complications surrounding how ad fraud occurs and the nuances of detecting it

  • Sam Tingleff, CTO of IAB Tech Lab, whose ads.txt initiative helped publishers fight ad fraud, as he covers the constant monitoring and extra work mobile-specific ad fraud requires

  • Mike Zaneis, CEO of Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), talking about how governmental agencies are taking notice, partnering with tech companies to uncover fraudsters who use ad fraud to fund even more serious crimes.

Listen now to DrainerBot: Exposed

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DrainerBot: Exposed Transcript Preview

Kori: Imagine opening your mobile phone bill to discover a sharp increase in data charges even though your plan and usage hadn't changed.Iin early 2019 it's a situation consumers found themselves in. The culprit? Digital ad fraud.

Historically, advertising fraud has only affected industry players and consumers have largely been sheltered from this type of fraudulent activity—until now. Enter DrainerBot, a far reaching and fraudulent mobile ad operation enabled by millions of downloads of infected mobile apps. These apps consume more than 10 gigabytes of data per month. Consumers had no idea that something malicious was draining their mobile phone batteries and running up their bills.

Join us as we break down the inner workings of today's advanced ad fraud rings, and reveal how one company, using two separate forms of technology, uncovered a digital villain.

This is DrainerBot: Exposed.

Let's first set up the scale of the ad fraud problem. In 2018, it's estimated that $19 billion was lost to fraudulent digital advertising, and that number is expected to increase to over 40 billion by 2022.

Stepping back a bit, what is ad fraud, and how exactly does it happen? To give us a little insight is Dan Fichter, VP of engineering for Moat at Oracle Data Cloud. Dan works on measurement products that have technology built in to help detect what could be fraudulent activity.

Dan: So ad fraud, broadly speaking, is anytime that advertisers don't get what they pay for when they advertised or another way of looking at it is “did advertising really occur?” So many of the ways that ad fraud occurs involve bots. The most basic way that that happens is that somebody owns a website or earns a revenue share off the ads on a website and sends bots to that website. The bots don't necessarily need to click the ads. Impression fraud has quickly come to eclipse click fraud as the main form of ad fraud, meaning you generate a large enough number of fake robotic views of a web page or fake loads of a mobile app to generate a large amount of fraudulent income on the ad revenue based purely on the views, without even clicking ads.

Kori: To simplify, here’s a quick real-life scenario. You’re an advertiser running a big campaign, and one of your mobile ads had more views than ever before and an impressive click rate! You’re certain you just pulled off one of your best digital campaigns yet. Alas, the numbers seem off. A little digging drudges up more questions. Is this traffic legit? And where is it coming from?

Dan: This non-human traffic is called invalid traffic or IVT. There are multiple types and levels of severity of this type of fraud, and in the simplest case, a fraudulent actor sets up a website, probably copy a little bit of someone else's content onto the website so that it looks real if someone goes and checks it out. But the idea of the website is not actually to publish original content and educate or entertain people. The point of the website is the ads.

Kori: It is important to note that invalid traffic alone is not fraudulent. For example, bots or “spiders” from search engine giants like Google are also considered IVT. These bots scour the web and categorize content to help deliver better search engine results.

Nonetheless, ad fraud may be lurking in the midst of invalid traffic—intent on creating false demand for ads. These “bad” bots do everything possible to appear human in order to generate illicit profits for their bad-acting handlers.

As programmatic technology evolves, so do the fraudsters and they get better at alluding detection.

Get the rest of the story:

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To learn more, download our whitepaper on how to protect your ad spend from invalid traffic and how Oracle Moat is working to fight against ad fraud.

Kori Wallace

Content Manager

Kori Hill Wallace is a content specialist for Oracle Data Cloud. She loves appetizers, animals, athletics, and alliteration. (She what she did there?) 

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