Responding to Botnet Traffic

Posted by Todd Miller on July 8th, 2014 at 9:33 am

Compliance in the online advertising industry has always been a game of cat and mouse. The “Undernet” (botnets and fraudsters) achieves certain abilities, the industry responds with countermeasures, and the compliance cycle repeats. My previous articles covered why compliance is important, and I also laid out what Adaptive Media does to stay on constant guard against these threats. Now, I’d like to focus on how to respond if you find fraudulent traffic, as well as some thoughts on future threats.

Bot traffic is rarely an accident. If you find your owned-and-operated websites the victim of bot traffic, it is vital to launch an internal investigation right away. Talk with the folks responsible for managing and promoting that property. Find the source of the traffic, and make it stop. Implement a policy against purchasing traffic in bulk, and consider partnering with a 3rd party for bot detection and blocking solutions. Yes, additional traffic creates a revenue lift, but the cons far outweigh the pros. If bot-traffic is discovered on your sites, it will cost you a lot more to not only repair the financial damage, but also the damage to your brand and credibility.

Finding and preventing bot traffic to your owned-and-operated sites is one thing. But, what should you do if you become aware of bot traffic affecting a partner site, such as an affiliate or other website promoting your goods and services? Immediately suspend doing business with the offending website. Unyielding termination is not necessary at this stage, but ensuring that you are insulated from the bots is. Reach out to the publisher or website, and ask about the sources they have been using recently to deliver traffic to the site. Let them know about the bot traffic, and that they will not be re-activated until they can demonstrate that the traffic is clean. Make sure they understand buying traffic in bulk is not a practice you tolerate. If the traffic is cleaned up, consider reactivation. If it’s not, terminate your relationship with that site. There are a number of reasons publishers cross over to the ‘dark side’ but in my experience, site transformations have less than a 2% success rate.

Make sure you also get involved with the community. Don’t stop with blocking or black-listing a website you’ve determined to be involved with bot-traffic. Report that site to industry watchdog groups, such as the IAB, BBB Online, and TrustE. Tell your agency and ad network partners so they can add them to their blacklists. It’s important that we build not only a safer community, but also a smarter one. The Undernet will only try harder and get smarter. If we don’t work together, we’re all just individual, isolated pockets of resistance against the zombie bot-hordes.

As technology continues to advance, so will new threats. Mobile is the new, uncharted territory – much like the Internet in its infancy. This rise of touch-based devices will hinder some of the industries bot-detection technologies, mainly mouse movement and heat mapping. This semi-blind spot gives bots additional cover to masquerade as mobile devices. Advances in pixeling, and leveraging some of the unique aspects of mobile devices, can help the industry keep pace with probable bot evolution.

The threats from the Undernet are very real, but there are ways to protect yourself. Leverage your data, get assistance from 3rd parties, learn to recognize bot-driven traffic and collaborate with others. It’s going to take a little leg work as bots get a smarter, patterns will be a little harder to find. However, those patterns will be there just the same. Stay committed to the path of constant vigilance. Together we can build a smarter and safer Internet so it can continue to enrich all of our lives.

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