How to protect yourself from digital ad fraud in 2020

Why we need to talk about ad fraud…still

Traffic bots: the good, the bad and the fraudulent

The Internet is a busy, busy place, full of cat videos and many other things. While many people may assume that the vast majority of traffic across the Internet consists of people, actual humans, watching those very cat videos (and, you know, other stuff too), they’d be mistaken.

In fact, Imperva’s last report on this very subject put human traffic at 51.5%. So, what’s the deal with the other 48.5%? Where does nearly half of all Internet traffic come from?


These bots can be broken down into two, distinct groups: good bots and bad bots.

Good bots are usually run and operated by organisations looking to gather information both on and about the web. They are an important part of its natural evolution and progression.

Bad bots, conversely, are the rubbish that clog up the Internet. They swarm the web, looking for sites to hack, people to scam and defraud, spy on companies and much, much more. The people behind these bad bots are the cybercriminals of the online world and the range and power of the weapons in their arsenal is great.


Adcash Traffic Quality - Global traffic, human traffic vs bot traffic

Bad bot traffic and the digital ad industry

Wherever there is money to be made, there will be people doing anything and everything they can to cheat, manipulate the system to their advantage and digital advertising is no different.

If you’re reading this you’re probably already at least vaguely familiar with the main elements of digital advertising, but to summarise very quickly: for a digital ad network (like Adcash) the customer base is split into two main groups – Advertisers and Publishers. Advertisers, being people who have ads they want to run and Publishers being the site-owners where those ads will appear.


For Adcash and many other ad networks out there, the challenge when it comes to online bot traffic is, primarily, from bots being used by fraudulent Publishers to artificially inflate clicks or impressions. If left unchecked, this kind of scam can have a serious impact on both the Advertiser running those ads and the ad network serving them.

Fighting fraud

At Adcash, we have a team, dedicated to hunting and shutting down those responsible for these kind of scams (and many others, too – but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick to just Bad Bots). The core team is split into two groups: analysts and developers.


Adcash traffic quality - how we fight ad fraud

The analysts look at the data, identifying any unusual patterns of behaviour that should be flagged or investigated. If they detect something, they ensure the relevant action is taken. The developers take these patterns and, along with the data science team, feed them into our anti-fraud tools, to help the analysts crush the bot traffic.


Adcash traffic quality - bot traffic vs clean traffic

And, it looks like they’re doing something right. Currently, 91.8% of our traffic is “clean”. What’s more, if you compare Adcash traffic to the Internet as a whole, it looks like we’re doing something right, for sure.


Adcash traffic quality - adcash vs global traffic comparison

It’s also interesting to look at how bot traffic impacts different verticals, as well as its country of origin.

Digging deeper

As of last month, top of the bot traffic charts, was Shopping, with 21% and then Games with 12%. So why are Shopping and Games towards to the top of the list? Well, one possible explanation is that these are verticals that see a lot of ad spend and so, unfortunately, it’s likely to see more aggressive scamming attempts from cybercriminals.

adcash traffic quality - bot traffic, per vertical

In terms of the country of origin of this botnet traffic, perhaps unsurprisingly, we see South Korea topping the list, with 16.8%, closely followed by the USA with 15.8%. These countries generate a lot of bot traffic because, typically, they have a lot of people with computers, connected to the Internet, that have been targeted and compromised so they now running bot software which is used to generate this fake impressions.

adcash traffic quality - top botnet traffic countries

This is one way bots can be used to generate fake ad impressions or clicks: you visit a site, you download and run something bad, your PC gets infected, “bad actors” then take control of your PC, to do anything from running DDoS attacks to producing fake ad impressions and clicks.

TOP TIP:  If you’re a site owner looking to get more traffic, avoid sites claiming to “deliver real users to your site”. It’s likely that they’ll be using a botnet to send fake traffic your way. And if our systems (or the systems of any other network for that matter) detect this then you could fall foul of the terms and conditions, meaning you could have your account suspended!

If you have any questions about botnets, fake conversions, malware and what we’re doing about it, feel free to give us a shout in the comments down below and I’ll be happy to answer them.