Smart TVs spoofed to deliver billions of fake ad impressions

A cybergang created a botnet that used SmartTVs to generate fake eyeballs for a massive ad fraud campaign that saw billions of ad requests being generated per week.

The campaign, nicknamed Icebucket, was uncovered by a team of researchers at White Ops. At its peak in January 1.9 billion fake ad requests were being generated per day by SmartTVs and other devices impersonating about two million people scattered over 30 different countries. The primary platforms involved were all makes of Roku TV, Samsung Tizen SmartTVs, Google TV and Android.

White Ops did not know how much money was generated by the scam, but noted each fake request does pull a small amount of ad spend dollars out of an advertiser’s pockets.  

“The operation hid its sophisticated bots within the limited signal and transparency of server-side ad insertion (SSAI) backed video ad impressions,” the report said, adding this is the largest such operation spotted to date.

SSAI is commonly used for advertising on device types, such as CTVs, smart phones and gaming consoles. Delivering video ad content through SSAI offers advertisers the benefits of user personalization and latency reduction.

In this case White Ops believes the environment for this campaign to succeed was created advertisers bought inventory through unprotected channels where they did not have a direct relationship with the company providing the served ads therefore did not know if it was a trustworthy organization.

“Because of this opportunity, it is incredibly important for the CTV ecosystem and brands to work together through a collectively protected advertising supply chain to ensure fraud is recognized, addressed and eliminated as quickly as possible as bad actors always follow the money,” the report said.

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