Advertisers lost $180 million to Russian MethBot

Bad day at the office

A complex cyber-fraud operation siphoned $180 million from companies tricked into running video ads on thousands of fake pages, according to CNN.

Dubbed “Methbot”, the fraud ring acted as an intermediary, taking money from agencies, publishers and data providers to make them believe their ads were running on important sites. In fact, ads were displayed on over 250,000 fake pages the cybercriminals had created.

Fraudsters acquired some 500,000 IP addresses from reputable Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast and Spectrum and made it look like they were dispersed around the US. To support the massive operation, they built an infrastructure of over 1,200 dedicated physical servers, and a complex proxy network to help them pose as residential ISPs.

This marks an innovation that transcends beyond traditional botnets, allowing Methbot to scale beyond anything the industry has seen before and placing it in a new class of bot fraud,” a report detailing the fraud reads.

Scammers used a custom-built dedicated desktop browser which spoofed Google Chrome to evade anti-fraud technologies.

“More than 6,000 premium domains were targeted and spoofed, enabling the operation to attract millions in real advertising dollars,” the paper says.

To avoid detection, cybercriminals built special software so people from real data centers would appear to be users clicking on ads. The impersonating software would use a custom browser running from data centers on the illegally acquired IP addresses. Cyber-criminals would even make it look like these people had Facebook accounts and would receive premium ads.

They have faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers,” according to the report.

The sham started in October and was bringing $3 million to 5 million a day from around 300 million bogus video impressions daily, according to White Ops.

The company said Russian hackers are behind the operation, yet it hasn’t disclosed further details.

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