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Guest column: Cybersecurity in the advertising sector

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Today, the world is experiencing a digital revolution and digital media plays a pivotal role in it. Having the potential to change the way we live our lives, it is the next big thing to watch out for. Digital media is omnipresent and is flooding our lives by leveraging every channel possible. With modern technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), Big Data and Cloud computing penetrating our lives and making way for innovative business ideas, one can sense the global business scenario transform to adapt this digital era. However, with growing possibilities come growing threats. Cybersecurity is globally a major issue across all the digital platforms. It is important to understand the intricacies of cyber security, in order to avert the ongoing spate of digital frauds.

When “Advertising” went “Digital”...

Speaking of tech-based innovative business ideas, digital advertising rings a bell. It is one of the outcomes of this digital era. Digital advertising is the future of advertising. It is expected to overtake TV advertising this year. It is a smart technology that will only grow bigger and get smarter, by incorporating futuristic technologies. Programmatic advertising is the newest entrant in this field. It is the next generation technology which helps advertisers to target their desired customers, through the use of algorithms and dynamic tracking of users’ behavioral data. The entire process is automated and is completed withing the blink of an eye.

Don’t fall victim!

While wading through this digital world, however, one needs to be cautious. The lack of human involvement, creates certain vulnerabilities. It is prone to attacks by hackers. The system may get infested by viruses, malwares, spywares, ransomware, etc. These could wreck havoc on the system which stores our valuable data. In the world of digital advertising, online threats manifest in the form of click frauds, fake and bot-generated traffics, spamming, brandjacking, identity thefts, data thefts, etc. Such criminal activities pose a looming threat to the digital media sector. If the users end up clicking on malicious links, their system is exposed to great risks by hackers and malicious software.

Watch your clicks!

Advertisers were recently hit by two massive advertising frauds - Methbot and Hyphbot. Methbot is claimed to be the “Biggest Ad Fraud Ever”. A group of Russian criminals managed to game the system with the help of fake domain registrations. They tricked the ad-algorithms into buying their fake web space and serving ads on these fraud platforms. They then directed fake traffic at these ads from 5,70,000+ bots who viewed these ads. This drove their revenues to $5M per day by forging 300M video views, with the help of the CPC system they exploited.

Another such ad fraud operation was “Hyphbot”. It was a bot network that fabricated up to a 1.5 billion fake ad requests per day and generated around $5,00,000 a day. “Hyphbot” is said to have compromised around 5,00,000 machines. It is claimed to be four-times as big as the Methbot operation. Similar to Methbot, the Hyphbot perpetrators generated a slew of fake websites that were designed to mimic the behavior of authenticate human traffic. They consequently managed to trick the ad exchanges and ad networks that these were genuine and premium publishers.

Build your defense:

In this world of digitization, it is very important to be aware of the ways to prevent such attacks on oneself and be safe online. To deter frauds like the Methbot and the Hyphbot, publishers can adopt a simple “ads.txt” protocol. By implementing ads.txt, publishers can caution third-party media buyers - which includes even the automated buying platforms - by providing data about exactly which inventory sources legitimately represent them. Simply concatenating the script ‘/ads.txt’ after a genuine premium publisher's URL will display the list of these third-party media parties.

Advertisers can use self- serve platforms which enable them to monitor their ad campaigns and its properties in real-time. All members of the supply chain will have to work together to weed out  ad frauds and other cybersecurity issues. Hence, It is important that all advertisers (Brands & Agencies) be watchful any programmatic advertising platforms and SSPs before they are engaging with them in business.

Governments and major players are taking notice...

In the UK, the FBI and Metropolitan Police are taking keen interest in ad fraud cases. They are currently gathering intelligence on the technicalities of the “adtech” industry and sources say that summons in these frauds can be expected soon. Also, major advertisers have shown inclinations towards only those publishers and ad tech companies who have a strong commitment to prevent ad frauds on their sites.

The future of this highly-promising industry lies on the shoulders of these preventive measures and their success ratios. Ad fraud prevention is a vital area that needs a lot of urgent attention. However, this will play a major role in shaping the future of this digital world.

The author is the founder and CEO of Vertoz. The views expressed are personal and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them.

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