Within the digital advertising ecosystem the challenge of securing ad creatives against malicious threats has historically taken a back seat to the bigger, "louder" problem of ad fraud. The impact invalid traffic has on the digital supply chain is often easier for stakeholders to get their heads around, leaving malvertising as a "quiet" problem that has allowed threat actors to fly under the radar and profit from the ensuing damage.
In 2015 an IAB report found an overall US$1.1 billion cost impact on digital advertising from malvertising attacks. Despite being less immediately visible, the problem of creative compliance is not new, and since 2015 attacks have scaled in lockstep with the digital ad ecosystem.
That's the bad news. The good news is that awareness of the problem – and the resolve to fight it – has also grown. The quiet problem is finding its voice.
With programmatic exchanges making creative compliance a key pillar of their programmatic principles, and Google taking a near zero tolerance approach to abusive ads with the launch of Chrome 71, the focus on delivering clean, compliant creatives has sharpened dramatically. For publishers — and the networks and exchanges they partner with — the cost of inaction will soon become too high to ignore.
AdSecure has identified 3 problems that we expect to trend throughout 2019 and the best solutions to face them head on, and win.
Programmatic & Mobile ad spend: threat actors follow the money
The rise of programmatic ad spend continued throughout 2018, and in 2019 an estimated 65% of all money spent on digital ads will be traded programmatically. Advertisers will spend US$84 billion on programmatic advertising this year, and by 2020 the total is expected to rise to US$98 billion. The money flowing programmatically is massive, and there's one certainty when discussing malicious activity: follow the money.
More money, more malicious problems. Everything swells in programmatic, creating an ideal breeding ground for dangerous attacks. With publishers losing visibility and control over exactly who is buying traffic, the question of facing malicious activity becomes a matter of when, rather than if.
Similarly, mobile ad spend comprised a staggering 75% of all digital ad spending in 2018, and that growth will continue in 2019. The amount of money involved in mobile advertising is like catnip for criminals. In November 2018, a malware campaign targeting iOS devices managed to hijack an astounding 300 million browser sessions within 48 hours. The culprit behind that attack is still active today.
The AdSecure Solution:
For publishers, negating the damage wrought by malvertising attacks on programmatic campaigns means taking back control to protect both visitors and the revenue streams that fuel the creation of new, engaging content. Trusted partners that embrace the need for transparency and a commitment to delivering clean, malware free programmatic campaigns are a must.
Working with partners who collaborate with dedicated ad verification vendors capable of scanning programmatic campaigns to detect malicious attacks is the best solution. Should ad networks and exchanges not show a willingness to provide that solution, publishers can take on a dedicated service directly, and possibly reconsider their future partner relationships.
With the power mobile campaigns hold in today's digital advertising landscape, particularly those campaigns running on carrier networks, an anti-malvertising provider that enables their clients to scan campaigns across a global mobile carrier proxy network is key, as is being sure that you decide which campaigns are scanned using mobile carrier proxies, and the frequency. Control needs to be in your hands.
Ad Cloaking & IP Blacklisting: sleight of hand from cyber criminals
Threat actors are clever, and quite inventive when it comes to bypassing ad operations teams searching for bad ads. In order to avoid scrutiny, or risk their attack being stopped before the damage can be done, criminals often resort to ad cloaking via IP blacklisting. Once they have identified those IPs they want to avoid, they are added to a blacklist, which will then present the flagged IPs with a clean ad while the dangerous content creeps along to the intended target.
Some schemes go so far as blacklisting all standard datacentre proxies in a target location, making it difficult for a scanning solution that relies on these proxies alone to detect cloaked attacks. In this scenario, even a dedicated verification tool will be fooled into allowing dangerous attacks to slip through.
The AdSecure Solution:
What if you could take from cyber criminals their ability to know just which IPs to blacklist, but also nullify the benefits of blacklisting altogether? It's entirely possible with the right approach to proxy coverage. Scanning ad creatives using an intricate network of Residential IPs makes it virtually impossible for an attacker to determine which IPs to blacklist, while making it counterproductive to do so, as these IPs belong to the very users they are looking to target.
Ad cloaking is a growing concern for many ad networks looking to protect their reputations for clean ad delivery and instill confidence in their publishing partners, but with an innovative approach to proxy usage it's a concern that they can safely say they have covered.
Cryptojacking: a drain on (other people's) resources
Cryptojacking is growing because it's easy money and relatively simple to use, even for those low on tech savvy. Cryptojacking is seen as less risky and more profitable than ransomware as it continuously generates income. It is also far more difficult to uncover than ransomware, lowering the fear of being caught.
One way to implement a cryptojacking program is by injecting a script into a digital ad or website. Once a user visits the infected site, or encounters the ad carrying the cryptominer the script is executed, leaving the user blissfully unaware.
This differs from typical malvertising attacks as there is no obvious damage to the user. It does, however, put a massive drain on the CPU of the users device. For individuals this can be annoying, but for a large organisation infected by a cryptojacking script, the costs of detecting and resolving performance issues, or replacing equipment can have a detrimental impact.
The AdSecure Solution:
Scan your creatives early, and often. When looking at dedicated solutions for scanning ad campaigns and detecting suspicious behaviour, a tool that gives you the ability to scan in large volumes will be most effective in protecting users from falling victim to a cryptominer that kills their devices over time.
One final thought: The importance of transparency and trust in your ad tech partners
Digital is unique in that the seller of traffic is responsible for what appears on their site, so ultimately it's the publisher who gets the blame when something malicious is delivered to their visitors. That duty of care to the consumer means working with partners who understand the weight of that responsibility.
Transparency and trust are key in safeguarding users from harm. Partnering with compliance experts who bring a full spectrum approach to tackling malicious activity, and know that rather than holding control over protection tools and obscuring when they are used — and how often — it's through empowering clients to take back control of ad creative quality that will ultimately lead to the creation of a secure digital advertising ecosystem.
AdSecure provides creative security solutions that empower our partners to take back control and keep their ads safe. We provide solutions for programmatic & mobile campaign scanning, and robust protection against ad cloaking & IP blacklisting via our innovative residential proxy model. Click here to learn more.