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Botnets have long been a problem for companies of all sizes to deal with—and for a variety of reasons. Odds are you’ve read a headline or two about how some massive botnet carried out a big cyberattack against some company or industry and stole a ton of sensitive information or stopped affected companies from doing business for a while.
However, you may be less familiar with one of the other uses of botnets: directly stealing ad revenue from your marketing campaigns.
A botnet is a large collection of devices that have been infected with zombie bot malware. This malware allows the botmaster in control to use the bots for various tasks.
While normal bots can be used for benevolent purposes (such as automatically filling out data dashboards with up-to-date performance information or crawling websites for search engines to display), botnets are almost exclusively used for nefarious purposes. DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks and ad fraud are two common examples of how botnets might be used.
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So, why do you need an ad fraud solution to fight botnets? Why shouldn’t you just review your marketing data manually and use that to combat the fraud committed using bot traffic from a botnet?
There are a number of reasons why ad fraud solutions are a necessity when fighting traffic bots and botnets.
The reason why every company should use an ad fraud solution is that botnets are everywhere—and new ones are being made all the time. In fact, bad bots account for roughly 38% of all internet traffic (about the same amount as human users), and more than the 24% of traffic from good bots on the internet.
With so much of the internet’s traffic (62%) coming from bots—and the majority of those bots being bad bots associated with fraud or other schemes—it’s a basic business necessity to have a means of spotting and defending against malicious bot traffic.
The prevalence of botnets shouldn’t surprise anyone given how cheap and easy they are to make compared to their massive earnings potential.
How long does it take for a bot to fill out a form while posing as a lead from a specific marketing affiliate or partner organization? A few milliseconds—maybe more if it’s a sophisticated bot trying to imitate human user behaviors by staying on the page for a minute. With a massive botnet using hundreds or thousands of bots, a fraudster could submit countless fake leads with ease.
After that, if the fraud goes undetected, the fraudster behind the bot gets to claim a nice payday for all the “leads” they generated.
The problem with relying on manual fraud detection methods is that it takes time for a person to sift through all of the data they need to look at to determine if a specific website visitor was an actual person or a bot. Even if you use a large team constantly checking for signs of bot fraud, the delay between a bot filling out a form or clicking on an ad and the fraudulent activity being verified by a person, could be long enough for the fraudster to walk away with the money.
Besides, hiring fraud experts to constantly and manually check website traffic would be incredibly cost-prohibitive—even for websites with relatively modest traffic. An automated ad fraud solution that can inspect traffic in real time and flag it as genuine or fake in real-time is more efficient and effective than relying on human intuition (which can be wrong).
Another reason to use an ad fraud solution is that accurately identifying fraud can be incredibly difficult. When assessing traffic to determine fraud, it’s important to do more than just look at a single metric like time-on-site or page views. Such a simplistic analysis runs the risk of missing fraudulent activity or of accidentally labeling innocuous activity as fraud.
Failing to find fraud risks allowing fraudsters to get away with their crimes for an extended period of time—increasing the harm they can do. Meanwhile, accidentally marking legitimate leads as fraud can cause the company to miss out on valuable revenue opportunities.
Accurately identifying fraud requires a deep inspection of hundreds of data points—all of which should be compared to a large library of marketing data on legitimate lead generation efforts. This is not a task that can be performed quickly and easily with manual methods.
The earliest bots and botnets were fairly simplistic. They were made to carry out basic tasks that were too repetitive or time-consuming for the person using them. However, bots have become markedly more sophisticated over the years—and thus, harder to detect and take down.
In the past, stopping a botnet attack of any kind was a matter of finding the command and control (C&C) server and shutting it down. However, as noted by Tech Target, “as botnet malware becomes more sophisticated and communications are decentralized, takedown efforts have shifted away from targeting C&C infrastructures.” Modern botnets are incredibly hard to trace both because of the sheer size some botnets can achieve and the complexity of their peer-to-peer networks.
It isn’t just the control methods that have evolved, either. Individual bot programs used by fraudsters are being constantly refined to better mimic human traffic and activity.
Fraudsters using bots are just as invested in finding ways to fool common detection methods as companies are in improving detection. So, they continually collect data, investigate which metrics companies consider important for spotting fraud, and make adjustments to beat each new detection metric they see being put to use.
In a recent interview with SafetyDetectives Anura's CEO, Rich Kahn, explains how we counteract this evolution:
We have one of our engineers try to hack around our system to try to mimic fraud & find a way to defraud our system. Once we find a way around, we work together to block that attack.
This is part of the reason why it’s so important to do a deep dive into so many different metrics. Otherwise, fraudsters can find the one companies are relying on and tweak their bots to fool detection efforts.
When it comes time to confront a fraudster, it’s vital to have the information needed to back up any claim of fraudulent activity on their part.
It’s not enough to go up to a fraudster and say “Joe from accounting thinks you’re defrauding us because your leads look a little suspicious to him.” The company needs to have hard data that says “this activity was flagged as fraud because of these reasons that would hold up in a legal proceeding.”
Fraudsters are often extremely good at trying to force their victims’ hands. Without solid proof, a fraudster could claim that they’re the ones being cheated and demand their money—even threatening to sue or defame the company to their other affiliate marketing partners if they aren’t paid.
An ad fraud solution helps companies collect the hard data they need to back up allegations of fraud—which can often send fraudsters packing right away.
How much does ad fraud cost a business? The number can vary, but it isn’t cheap. The money wasted on fraudulent leads, the cost of pursuing those bad leads, the damage to the brand’s reputation, and the potential fines for TCPA violations can quickly add up.
Contrast the cost of letting fraudsters take money from your business to the cost of an ad fraud solution, and the choice is clear. As the old saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The same applies to ad fraud solutions.
Having a solution in place helps to prevent the theft of marketing dollars—improving the company’s ROI for its marketing spend immensely and saving time and labor that would otherwise be wasted on fake leads.
One of the biggest problems with paying for fake leads generated by botnets and other fraudulent tactics is that it incentivizes more fraudsters to do the same. And, more specifically, to target your company.
Ad fraud is simply an easy way to make money for many of these fraudsters. If they find a nice, fat, juicy marketing budget to target that doesn’t have adequate protection against fraud, they’ll target it in a heartbeat. Then, word may get around that there’s money to be made off of a particular victim—triggering a feeding frenzy of fraud that would put sharks and piranhas to shame.
By using an ad fraud solution to stop fraud early on, you can make your company a less appealing target for fraudsters. Additionally, by sharing data on fraudsters with industry peers, you can help protect other businesses from their schemes and make committing ad fraud less worthwhile—dis-incentivizing the behavior.
Why let fraudsters make off with your company’s hard-earned money while adding more work to your plate and damaging your reputation?
If you’re ready to put a stop to ad fraud, get in touch with the experts at Anura! Our ad fraud solution is a proven, reliable, and accurate system for identifying fraud in real time and helping you put a stop to it before fraudsters can get away.
Don’t let the fraudsters win. Demand a demo of the Anura ad fraud solution now.
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