CTV is a fast growing digital media channel and, not surprisingly, a high growth environment for fraud. At its peak, a single fraud scheme accounted for more than 28% of total global programmatic CTV traffic. Incredible. We caught up with Ryan Murray, Director, Asia Pacific, White Ops to get the latest update on OTT, CTV and Ad Fraud.
What’s the history of CTV and ad fraud? Is there anything specific to Asia Pacific?
Connected TV (CTV) has had quite the rise in popularity over the past few years. Households replaced their traditional cable TVs for TVs capable of supporting streaming services all by connecting to the internet. Given this rise, advertisers have started folding CTV advertising into their plans as a new way to reach their audience. And as we know, fraud follows the money. As advertisers pour more budget into the CTV landscape, fraudsters are finding new ways to game the system to take a piece of the pie. Ad fraud on CTVs is lucrative for a fraudster given the high CPMs.
This year we uncovered the largest CTV ad fraud operation to date called ICEBUCKET. The ICEBUCKET operation relied on a part of programmatic advertising where the supply chain is less transparent, sellers are not reported in sellers.json files, and buyers and sellers typically don’t have a direct relationship. The operation counterfeited over 300 different publishers, stealing advertising spend by tricking advertisers into thinking there were real people on the other side of the screen, when in reality, these were bots pretending to be real people watching TV. The operation hid its sophisticated bots within the limited signal and transparency of server side ad insertion (SSAI) backed video ad impressions.
At its peak, ICEBUCKET accounted for more than 28% of the programmatic CTV traffic we see, which demonstrates the capacity of fraudsters to make a dramatic impact on this new market. SSAI spoofing at this magnitude is highly sophisticated and without proper bot mitigation, it can be very difficult to spot.
Are CTV cyberattacks as easy to detect as they are to commit?
Ad fraud as a whole is a significant concern for the industry, stealing billions of dollars every year. While we are collectively getting better at fighting this battle, particularly in programmatic, the battle is far from over.
As the marketing industry expands into new technologies and tactics, fraudsters expand and adapt their tactics in kind, presenting a number of new threats to marketing campaigns. A new trend we’ve monitored this year suggests fraudsters are suppressing less sophisticated ad verification technology in order to remain undetected. As a result brands, platforms and consumers continue to be abused and lose revenue, experience infected value chains, damaged reputation and tedious remediation discussions.
The lack of consistent standards and the surge in ad spending, driven by the rise of streaming content services and a proliferation of new connected devices, is leaving CTV as an especially ripe target for fraud. Today’s bots are increasingly more sophisticated and delivering a host of malicious activities in CTV. Equally as damaging are fraudsters’ ability to perform fakery toward the entire digital marketing system to siphon legitimate opportunities and revenue. Even the most secure platform is susceptible to buyers purchasing spoofed inventory.
Are certain types of CTV or OTT apps more likely to get targeted by fraudsters?
Similar to other device types, something that looks more premium will be a target of spoofing. So if we think about some of the most popular ad-supported streaming services, that’s where fraudsters see the most money. Those premium placements are desirable and thus, the most costly to advertisers.
We also see spoofing in the form of physical CTV devices. There are a lot of different CTV devices out in the market and they fluctuate. A CTV provider can rebrand to a new name or implement a software update; it’s hard for the average advertiser to keep up with all the movement in the space.
The CTV ecosystem is a complex world that includes a large number of stakeholders – what tactics can marketers and advertisers put in place to protect themselves?
The CTV ecosystem is a complex and fragmented one which makes it ripe for intrusion from fraudsters. Advertisers and marketers need to work together with the rest of the industry to protect CTV to make it cost-prohibitive to monetize their schemes. To do this, standards need to be adopted to make it easier for valid impressions to be identified.
If organizations fight fraud in a silo, depleting their own time and resources, adversaries simply move on to employing the same tactics at a different target — nothing lost, much still left to gain for them. If the industry can rapidly apply knowledge gained from a particular attack for everyone’s benefit, then that tactic will not work when adversaries move on to the next target.