A Sneaky Ad Scam Tore Through 11 Million Phones
source: wired.com | image: pexels.com
Some 1,700 spoofed apps, 120 targeted publishers, 12 billion false ad requests per day—Vastflux is one of the biggest ad frauds ever discovered.
EVERY TIME YOU open an app or website, a flurry of invisible processes takes place without you knowing. Behind the scenes, dozens of advertising companies are jostling for your attention: They want their ads in front of your eyeballs. For each ad, a series of instant auctions often determines which ads you see. This automated advertising, often known as programmatic advertising, is big business, with $418 billion spent on it last year. But it’s also ripe for abuse.
Security researchers today revealed a new widespread attack on the online advertising ecosystem that has impacted millions of people, defrauded hundreds of companies, and potentially netted its creators some serious profits. The attack, dubbed Vastflux, was discovered by researchers at Human Security, a firm focusing on fraud and bot activity. The attack impacted 11 million phones, with the attackers spoofing 1,700 app and targeting 120 publishers. At its peak, the attackers were making 12 billion requests for ads per day.
“When I first got the results for the volume of the attack, I had to run the numbers multiple times,” says Marion Habiby, a data scientist at Human Security and the lead researcher on the case. Habiby describes the attack as both one of the most sophisticated the company has seen and the largest. “It is clear the bad actors were well organized and went to great lengths to avoid detection, making sure the attack would run as long as possible—making as much money as possible,” Habiby says.