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The Bad Guys of Online Fraud

I often still get questions like, "What is ad fraud? Why does it matter?" Ad fraud is a complex system of attacks designed to siphon money from your marketing campaigns. It can take many forms, impact nearly any marketing channel and pop up (and sometimes disappear) at any moment. If you're advertising online, you're being impacted by ad fraud. That's not what we're going to talk about today.

The other question I'm often asked, is why aren't we doing more (anything) to eliminate ad fraud? My first response is well we, Anura, are. That's kind of what we do (better than anyone else out there at the moment). My next response is you need to understand what you're up against when it comes to ad fraud.

Ad fraud is the second greatest source of income for organized crime, behind narcotics trafficking. Let that sink in for a second. The ad fraud "market" made criminals over $42 billion dollars in 2019. To put that in perspective, the entire media buying industry in the United States has a market cap just shy of $8 billion. This is big business for them.

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. - Sun Tzu

Just this year, for our LinkedIn communities, I've posted three examples of the scale of these cybercriminal's operations. This is the force aligned against you.

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Call Centers for Fraud

Just what they sound like, human fraud farms are basically call center environments where actual people, 'employees' if you will for the fraudsters, commit fraud against your campaigns. Sometimes they use bogus data, sometimes they use stolen data, and when they fill out your forms, it looks just like a real lead or other action.

Back in February, Byron Muhlberg wrote about human fraud farms for CPO Magazine. Run by organized crime, these fraud farms are often located in developing nations to keep labor costs low. These organizations also often employ technology, including AI and machine learning, to increase 'employee' efficiency and better mimic real interactions with greater speed. Your investment for an outsourced human fraud farm? About $9/hour per "rep."

These are the fraudsters' shock troops, a geographically diverse army of people waiting to find a flaw in your systems and attack it at great speed and volume.

Dark Web LinkedIn

In a win for the good guys, the AP reported in June on the sentencing of a Russian super-hacker, Aleksei Burkov, for basically running LinkedIn for criminals for nearly six years. It was a premium service requiring a $5,000 bond and sponsorship by three existing community members. At the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Kevin Dwyer said, "You've made it as a criminal once you get on Direct Connection because you have access to the best criminals in the world."

There are other smaller (maybe larger?) networks out there, and the point is the bad guys are working together, sharing best practices and truly treating their organizations like professionally run companies. If they want to put together their very own "Ocean's 11" of cyber-criminals, they can.

Oh, Burkov, ever the entrepreneur, also ran an eBay for stolen credit card and other personal information.

These are the fraudsters' intelligence services, highly trained and well networked operatives ready to develop new lines of attack and skirt your defenses.

There's an App for That

Want to create your own traffic spoofing/relay attack network? There's an app for that! Recently, colleagues in-industry and law enforcement have found apps available on the dark web, at reasonable prices, that allow you to create your very own SDK spoofing app.

Technology and tools available to facilitate fraud is not new to the Dark Web (see our buddy Aleksei above), and the economies of scale are making them less expensive and more readily available. The addition of AI and machine learning environments on the bad-guys side makes them more difficult to find and defeat.

These are the fraudsters' artillery units, breaching your walls and allowing attacks within.

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. - Sun Tzu

So, back to the original question, why aren't we doing more to eliminate ad fraud? Well, the bad guys are good, quite good actually, at what they do, and unfortunately there's some noise on the good guys side. There are "solutions" out there that really aren't able to combat the forces aligned against you. That being said, many of us are in the fight, and we're in it to win it.

What can you do? First, realize it's a problem. Going back to my first-first question, if you're anywhere near digital marketing for your company, there is no excuse for you to be asking, "What is ad fraud?" It is there and it is stealing money from your company.

Second, find a partner that you can trust that has the technology AND know-how to combat the $42 billion-dollar army across the field. Look for experience. Years (or even decades) in the trenches fighting ad fraud is important in understanding how the fraud has developed and how new attacks may originate. It's not just a technical question, AI and machine learning are important for analysis speed, and the human/experience element is important for making the right decisions based on the data.

Finally, spread the word. When you find a partner or solution that works, tell friends and colleagues in the industry. I understand we're all looking for competitive advantages, and this truly is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our industry.

Rely on your readiness to receive the enemy and make your position unassailable. Speak with an ad fraud expert at Anura and start optimizing resources for effective and secure advertising campaigns.

Anura.io is a TAG-Certified Against Fraud enterprise class online fraud mitigation solution provider, primarily in the advertising and marketing space, with a proprietary solution that determines whether or not visitors to your web properties are real. Kyle Buzzard serves as Anura's Senior Vice President of Sales.