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How cybercriminal activity compares in the US vs China in Q2 2023

By Anna

August 10, 2023

On July 28 2023 we released AdSecure’s Q2 Violations Report 2023 to provide you with useful insights about how malvertisers think and operate across the world. Now, to continue giving you key information to protect yourself and your brand against cybercriminals, we want to take you into an in-depth journey to what happened during the quarter in cybercriminal activity in the US vs China in Q2 2023. With a large population of 1.412 billion in China, of which 73.1% are Internet users, and 331.9 million in the US, of which 90.9% are also on the internet, it only makes sense that these 2 GEOs were heavily targeted by cybercriminals! However, whilst the focus is the same -To steal end user’s sensitive information to make money illegitimately, the targeting methodology varies from one location to the other, mainly based on each country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, which is a metric that measures a country's economic output per person:

-As of 2023, the US has a GDP per capita of 70,248.63 USD
-Meanwhile, China’s GDP per capita amounts to 12,556.33 USD

As we can observe, China’s GDP per capita is considerably lower than the US, as a GEO which has many Tier 2 and 3 cities. With this information, cybercriminals can evaluate which attacks can work best per GEO - For instance, as we will see later on in this article, Phishing URL violations, which are designed to trick the end user into paying high amounts of money, were way more popular in the US, whilst Unwanted Programs was widely more detected in China- Keep reading to find out!

Breakdown of cybercriminal activity in the US vs China in Q2 2023 in categories

So, let's break down cybercriminal activity in the US vs China in Q2 2023 in categories in order to calculate ad safety in China and the US: The more prominent detections category in both the US and China in Q2 2023 has been User Advisory, followed by User Security and User Experience, and lastly, IAB based violations:

-User Advisory category: With a presence of 37.7% in the US and 52.6% in China, User Advisory violations detect offensive content that isn’t suitable for all users, as well as suspicious or fraudulent activity and ads that are not aligned with advertising industry standards set by the IAB.
-User Security violations: With a presence of 24.2% in the US and 25.9% in China, the User Security category covers detections that have a serious potential to compromise the user’s safety.
-User Experience category: With a presence of 37.3% in the US and 20.5% in China, User Experience violations affect end users with malicious and annoying activity within the ad campaigns they interact with.
-IAB Standards detectionsWith a presence of 0.8% in the US and 1% in China, IAB standards violations measure the performance of ads against the IAB Industry standards to stay Google compliant.

Copy of Iab 2  Copy of Iab 1

Now, let’s take a look at the top 10 violations in China and the US in Q2 2023.

Top 10 violations in the USA and in China in Q2 2023

The top 10 violations detected in the US across all categories in Q2 2023 were:

Top 1: SSL Non Compliant (Use Security) 21%
Top 2: Threat Intelligence (User Advisory) 19.3%
Top 3: Landing Page Error (User Experience) 11.9%
Top 4: Back Button Hijack (User Experience) 11.7%
Top 5: Suspicious TLD (User Advisory) 11%
Top 6: Javascript Dialogue On Entry (User Experience) 9.8%
Top 7: Unsafe adult content (User Advisory) 7.6%
Top 8: Malicious URL (Use Security) 3.6%
Top 9: Permission Notification (User Experience) 3.4%
Top 10: Ad Crypto 0.7% (User Advisory)

The top 10 violations detected in China across all categories in Q2 2023 were:

Top 1: Suspicious TLD (User Advisory) 26.5%
Top 2: SSL Non Compliant (Use Security) 25.1%
Top 3: Threat Intelligence (User Advisory) 19.3%
Top 4: Landing Page Error (User Experience) 17.2%
Top 5: Unsafe Adult Content (User Advisory) 7.2%
Top 6: Auto Redirect 1.2%
Top 7: Malicious URL (Use Security) 1.1%
Top 8: Back Button Hijack (User Experience) 0.9%
Top 9: Permission Notification (User Experience) 0.9%
Top 10: Pop Up (User Experience) 0.6%

Insight 1: Although most violations show in the top 10 lists of both GEOs, Auto-redirect and Pop-up are only found in China. China is a less wealthy GEO than the US so investment type scams won’t work as effectively, however cybercriminals can still try and trick the end users into downloading programs or subscribing to services that will steal their sensitive information.

Insight 2: The US, on the other hand, has shown Javascript Dialogue On Entry and Ad Crypto as relatively popular detections and could be used to trick them into investing into less safe or even completely fake Crypto currency or dangerous websites designed to look like legitimate services that will remove huge sums of money from their bank accounts, especially if they are asked to give away bank information or other login details!

User Security Violations in the US and China 

Now, we will take a look at User Security Violations in the US and China: User Security Violations endanger the end user’s online safety across all devices, being a key category that affects an ad network and publishers ad supply chain and brand safety. These types of violations commonly try to steal personal data or exploit end users financially. Analyzing cybercriminal activity in the US vs China in Q2 2023, the most common detection within the User Security category were SSL Non Compliant and Malicious URL.

SSL Non Compliant and Malicious URL: The top 2 Ad Security violations in China and the US

To give you a more realistic picture of how these two top violations affected the population analyzing cybercriminal activity in the US vs China in Q2 2023, we have added them to a hundred and compared their percentages against each other. They go as follows:

- SSL Non compliant was overwhelmingly popular amongst cybercriminals in the US (85.3%) and China (95.60%). SSL Non Compliant detections are ads that contain unsecured items in the chain of resource, like unsafe links, no https, contain mixed content, a ssl version, or a cipher mismatch. If an ad's link is using an unsecure connection or http, it means that it is not encrypted and sensitive data can be compromised, not only compromising the end user’s security, but also being automatically blocked by Google and being flagged as unsafe, which is a danger for a website’s and ad network’s reputation.

-Malicious URL was the second most popular detection in the US and China, and represented 14.7% and 4.4% respectively if we compare it against SSL Non Compliant. Malicious URLs are URLs that host annoying or dangerous content such as spam, phishing and drive-by exploits all aimed to compromise the end user’s security. They are designed to trick them into giving away their sensitive information, downloading malware, and other scams which could end up in destroyed personal devices and monetary loss. The end user clicks the ad, to then be redirected to a landing page containing the malicious content.

The remaining User Security violations still pose a huge threat to the end user’s wellbeing!

Following we will take a look at the remaining violations detected in the US and China in Q2 2023. Once again, to give you a more in-depth picture, we have followed the same methodology as above:

Browser Locker was 16.7% of all User Security detections in this secondary category in the US and 18.1% in China.
- Phishing url was 31.1% of all secondary User Security detections in the US and 9% in China.
Scareware was 43.4% of all secondary User Security detections in the US and 9.2% in China.
- Unwanted Programs was 8.8% of all secondary User Security detections in the US and 63.7% in China.

Insight: Although volumes are lower on this second group within User Security violations, they are still very dangerous violations and it is important to take action to prevent and remove them with specialized software. Money exploitation violations such as Phishing URL and Scareware are visibly higher in the US, which is a richer GEO. In China, on the other hand, we can find other types of Security Violations such as Unwanted Programs, which downloads malware into the end user’s device - China is a noticeably more populous GEO than the US and is poorer, and there is a possibility that some of these cyber attacks are state sponsored in order to gain access to valuable data or intelligence off of millions of end users’ devices!

IAB Standards Violations

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), is an advertising business organization that develops industry standards, guidelines and best practices for digital ads. When digital ads are compliant to the IAB standards they are optimized to provide the best experience for the end user.

In the US AdSecure identified 0.8% of all Q2 violations were IAB violation detections. In China, on the other hand, it stood at 1% of the volume of violations. These are both significant numbers and show that ad networks are still allowing non IAB compliant ads onto their network! Ads that are not compliant with the IAB can affect the end user ad experience. For example, the ad’s image could be pixelated or squashed due to bad compression or being the incorrect industry standard pixel dimensions. Or the ad could be too heavy and Chrome may block it. Not only does this mean the ad is unlikely to get any clicks, it can also affect the end user’s opinion of the website the ads were served as well as looking bad for the website itself.

Insight: AdSecure’s IAB detection is a great tool for ad networks and publishers to use to identify advertisers who need to be educated about industry standards. By identifying specific campaigns, the ad network or publisher then contacts the advertiser and asks them to re-submit the campaign with the correct weight, size, compression, etc. Campaigns that are aligned to the IAB standards lead to higher levels of user engagement and overall conversion, which means that providing compliant ad creatives plays a key role in maximizing revenues. Also, website performance can be impacted negatively if industry standards are not met, creating a bad user experience, affecting publisher eCPMs and possible Google rankings.

Conclusion: Ad safety in China and the US

AdSecure helps publishers and ad networks worldwide secure their business and protect their online brand and end users by making ad campaign’s monitoring easy, detecting anything from malvertising to load times pre and post campaign launch. Built around a custom-made crawler capable of simulating a wide array of devices and locations, AdSecure's crawler is powered by Chrome, and built on the same modern browser technology that powers today’s online world. Whether you are a website publisher or an ad network, AdSecure can provide excellent coverage to monitor your ad supply chain or website content and flag anything that could cause issues for your brand and your end users. Sign up now to see how we can protect your business!

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