OK, kill might be a touch dramatic. However, if you are a publisher displaying ads on your site, or an ad platform serving ads up, the impact is no joke.
The arrival of Google Chrome 71 in December marks a major escalation in Google’s efforts to stop the negative impact abusive adscan have on users. Chrome 71 will block abusive ads — commonly known as malvertising — so that users cannot be deceived into clicking through and exposing themselves to, at the very least the nuisance of an auto-download or a back button hijack, or on the far more serious end of the spectrum, a ransomware attack or a nasty phishing url.
This is a good thing, and Google has made previous attempts to tackle these harmful ads with Chrome 68. The key this time is that for repeat offenders, Google won’t merely block the abusive ads on your publisher site, it will block ALL ads until you can consistently clean up your act and protect your website visitors. Google will give you a 30 day grace period to check your Abusive Experiences Report and take action, but should those actions fall short, or worse not be tackled at all, Google will remove all ads from view.
The potential impact for publishers is immediately clear. Revenue from digital ad streams relied on to cover the costs of producing quality, engaging content will evaporate almost immediately, increasing the pain of keeping users interested and coming back day in and day out. Brand confidence will stumble as well when those advertisers buying ad space realise that money has been wasted and their ads won’t be seen by the customers they want to get in front of. A publisher running afoul of Google’s wrath will quickly find themselves caught in a vicious circle.
For the ad platforms these publishers work with to sell their traffic to the highest bidder there will be an unavoidable knock-on effect. Sites that start cleaning up to ensure their ads don’t suffer from a blanket block will soon realize that certain platforms continually serve up these problem ads and lose confidence in their viability as a partner. An ad platform struggling to deliver clean creatives can find their reputation tarnished before they really know what’s hit them.
Time to clean up
So what can you do to keep your ad creatives clean, user friendly, and visible on Chrome 71? Start by taking the problem seriously. 2018 has been an important year for shining a light on the problem of malicious, deceptive content. Recently, six leading programmatic exchanges came together to develop a set of guiding principles for a safe and transparent programmatic ad market, and chief among them was a commitment to scanning all creatives for malware and other ad quality issues. With Google now taking this major step with the launch of Chrome 71, the challenge of eliminating bad ads can no longer be put on the back burner.
Avoid the trap of thinking your operation is too big to be plagued by efforts to infect the ads you work with. While malware issues might trouble smaller digital publishers more regularly, major players can fall victim to some incredibly sophisticated, painful attacks. When this happens, the impact across the digital ecosystem is all the more severe, and the scope that much greater.
What are you doing now?
Next, take a look at what you’re doing now to tackle the problem. Is it agile enough to catch everything? An in house solution might seem like a suitable stop gap, but a basic tool will never detect every threat, particularly as cyber criminals continue to innovate and develop more sophisticated techniques for delivering dirty ads. This leaves ad operations and compliance teams struggling to keep up and ultimately fighting a battle they can never win. Partnering with a dedicated ad verification solution can ensure teams have the support they need, and are empowered to take decisive, data driven action.
For publishers and ad platforms already working with a trusted partner focused on ad quality challenges and still struggling to keep compliant, it’s likely that a single partner won’t suffice, or the solutions they offer are too limited in scope to solve complex challenges. The easy appeal of a real-time blocking solution, for example, sounds like a perfect fix, but in reality the embedded script tasked with blocking in “real-time” relies on a cache system to identify a previously encountered bad ad. Considering the speed and creativity with which talented programmers reinvent or modify the dangerous content injected into an ad, that real-time blocking script will still let any bad ad it has never dealt with before slip through the cracks.
You might be armed with a hammer, but that doesn’t mean every problem is a nail. Within the evolving landscape of malicious behaviour, many new problems will call for a more subtle approach.
New challenges, creative solutions
Another rising concern keeping those handling ad quality compliance awake at night is ad cloaking. When a member of your compliance team is performing an online quality check, they are likely doing so from a single fixed IP, or at best a small range. Armed with this information, an attacker generates a script that effectively cloaks an attack via IP blacklisting, leaving that visitor viewing a clean ad while the dangerous elements make their way to the target audience.
Again the task at hand requires combating criminal ingenuity. To deal with cloaking, implementing a more sophisticated strategy, using an intricate network made up of millions of proxies renders blacklisting virtually impossible, and ultimately pointless as they would be blacklisting the IPs of their intended victims.
The challenge of malvertising is difficult to face, but impossible to ignore. For publishers and ad networks, the best defense against bad ads is a multifaceted approach combining internal commitment and focus with the external experience and performance abilities of dedicated partners capable of providing confidence, control, and a commitment to creative security.
A trusted partner
We are committed to working with our partners to solve today’s most difficult ad verification challenges. To learn more about the AdSecure platform, our mission to stop cyber criminals from doing harm, and our approach to clean ad delivery, click here.