Is Digital Ad Fraud Economic Terrorism?

Bots are the agents of ad fraud and ad tech

Malware infiltrates personal computers to create bots that are used to generate fake ad impressions by visiting websites. These bots also lurk in the background of millions of civilians’ devices collecting personal information like passwords, browsing histories, files, and other data, which they eventually exfiltrate for use in ad targeting or other unsavory ways. Ted McConnell, long time ad tech expert, added “Don’t forget honeypots — in human terms, a hot girl (or guy) who will get you to talk; in cyber crime, a site you get sucked into that will plant malware and get data out of you.” Bots are the assets that do the fieldwork of generating traffic and ad impressions.

Middlemen in the ad tech supply chain could be double agents

Digital ad fraud persists because some middlemen in the ad tech supply chain are a double agents; they supposedly work for one party but secretly have other incentives that prevent them from taking more aggressive action against fraud​ — i.e. they ​​lose​ revenue when fraudulent impressions and traffic are reduced or eliminated. Media agencies, ad networks, ad tech firms, and even the fraud detection firms all make more money the higher volume of impressions that move through the system and as long as fraud persists. And there is no blowback whatsoever for just standing by and maintaining the status quo.

Consumers fight back with ad blocking counter-surveillance

The civilian casualties in the ongoing cyberwar far outnumber actual wet works in the physical world, because this kind of collateral damage consists of the hundreds of millions individuals whose personal information is being bought and sold without their knowledge or consent and the tens of millions of identities stolen, bank accounts drained, and credit cards used for fraudulent transactions.

Advanced cyber criminals ​remain in deep cover for years

Cyber criminals use the collected personal information and additional ​​social engineering techniques to gather enough data to compromise online bank accounts and credit cards — think of bad guys resetting your password using your pet’s name, high school mascot, sorority name, etc. Advanced cyber criminals use the millions of credit cards thus compromised to covertly place tens of millions of tiny transactions that do not raise suspicion or warrant action — how many consumers would spend time disputing $1.99 charges, or even recognize them to be fraudulent in the first place. Only amatuer bad guys go out and buy HDTVs with stolen credit cards, resulting in the cards being cancelled.

How good guys can bang and burn digital ad fraud for good

Despite years of talk and study, the topics of viewability and ad blocking have been more like chicken feed, plausible issues for the industry, but ones that have taken the attention of the good guys away from the much more nefarious issue of fraud. It has also given them a false sense of having taken action, while the bad guys continued stealing ad dollars, to the tune of billions per year.



Former Group Chief Digital Officer, MIT PhD (Materials Science), McKinsey Alum,

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Ad Fraud Researcher

Ad Fraud Researcher

Former Group Chief Digital Officer, MIT PhD (Materials Science), McKinsey Alum,