Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Partner Perspectives  Connecting marketers to our tech communities.
SPONSORED BY
3/6/2017
11:30 AM
Pieter Arntz
Pieter Arntz
Partner Perspectives
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
50%
50%

Adware vs. Ad Fraud: Viva la Difference!

Both earn their money in the advertising trade but they each have very different means of operation and targets.

Adware and ad fraud are in basically the same business, and neither care very much how they make money as long as it keeps pouring in. But there are some major differences. To understand these differences let’s take a look at the separate entities.

Adware
Adware is any software application that shows advertisements while one of the components of the adware is running. The word is a contraction of advertising and software, and often just regarded as “advertising-supported freeware.”

With adware, consumers accept the well-known trade off of not having to pay for software in exchange for having to look at some advertisements in return. While this simple business model may appeal to many of us, there are definitely boundaries. We draw lines at the amount of advertisements, the moment and the way they are presented to us (consider for example,  in-game advertising), and the kind of advertisements. Pop-ups of an adult nature, for one,  may give those looking over your shoulder the wrong idea.

There are also some criteria that security vendors take into consideration when classifying adware:

  • Do the advertisements disappear when you uninstall the software they came with?
  • Was the user given a warning and a chance to opt out during install?
  • What is the nature of the changes the adware makes on the affected system?
  • How easy is it to remove under normal circumstances?
  • What is the impact on users privacy?
  • Does the adware grab permissions to update itself or install other similar programs?

This is why you will see (most) adware classified as potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), some as spyware, and others could even be classified as Trojans.

Ad fraud
Ad fraud is a type of fraud that lets advertisers pay for advertisements even though the number of impressions (the times that the advertisement has been seen) is enormously exaggerated. There are many different methods to achieve this:

  • SEO fraud, where sites are artificially made to appear very popular so advertisers will pay high prices for advertisements nobody may ever see.
  • Stacking or stuffing sites are filled with lots of advertisements. Sometimes they are on top of each other, or sometimes only one pixel big. When someone visits the site, all the advertisements register one impression.
  • Domain spoofing is when the site where the advertisement is placed is different than the one the advertiser expected. He pays a high price for a site with low or no traffic.
  • Click-fraud involves systems that are part of a botnet or have some other Trojan infection. Visitors are sent to a site or click on a URL. But despite the amount of impressions, the return value of the click is very low. The chance that the potential customer is mad at you, is bigger than the chance he’ll buy something.

The malware involved in this type of fraud is usually classified as a Trojan as the systems are remotely controlled and told to visit a site (to heighten the popularity) or click a URL (to register an impression). As you can imagine, hiring a botnet to do these tasks for you is a lot cheaper than owning and running large server-farms, although this happens as well. Ad fraudsters also sometimes pay people in low-income countries to do micro tasks for micro payment.

Both adware and ad fraud earn their money in the advertising business. But the means are different. While the main victims of adware are the users who may have knowingly installed advertising supported software, in the case of ad fraud the main victims are the advertisers,  even though unsuspecting users may be running click-bots or multi-purpose bots.

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books. View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Truths About BEC Scams
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  6/13/2019
DNS Firewalls Could Prevent Billions in Losses to Cybercrime
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/13/2019
10 Notable Security Acquisitions of 2019 (So Far)
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  6/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-12865
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-17
In radare2 through 3.5.1, cmd_mount in libr/core/cmd_mount.c has a double free for the ms command.
CVE-2017-10720
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-17
Recently it was discovered as a part of the research on IoT devices in the most recent firmware for Shekar Endoscope that the desktop application used to connect to the device suffers from a stack overflow if more than 26 characters are passed to it as the Wi-Fi name. This application is installed o...
CVE-2017-10721
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-17
Recently it was discovered as a part of the research on IoT devices in the most recent firmware for Shekar Endoscope that the device has Telnet functionality enabled by default. This device acts as an Endoscope camera that allows its users to use it in various industrial systems and settings, car ga...
CVE-2017-10722
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-17
Recently it was discovered as a part of the research on IoT devices in the most recent firmware for Shekar Endoscope that the desktop application used to connect to the device suffers from a stack overflow if more than 26 characters are passed to it as the Wi-Fi password. This application is install...
CVE-2017-10723
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-17
Recently it was discovered as a part of the research on IoT devices in the most recent firmware for Shekar Endoscope that an attacker connected to the device Wi-Fi SSID can exploit a memory corruption issue and execute remote code on the device. This device acts as an Endoscope camera that allows it...