It’s a Bot World We’re Living In

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It's a Bot World We're Living In

by baldilocks

A few years back, I was trolling Chelsea Han­dler on Twit­ter and was semi-​shocked when one of her fans — some left­ist (chick?) — claimed that I was a white man using a black woman’s photo for my profile.

Left­ist delu­sion aside, now I under­stand it.

In late Novem­ber, the Jus­tice Depart­ment unsealed indict­ments against eight peo­ple accused of fleec­ing adver­tis­ers of $36 mil­lion in two of the largest dig­i­tal ad-​fraud oper­a­tions ever uncov­ered. Dig­i­tal adver­tis­ers tend to want two things: peo­ple to look at their ads and “pre­mium” web­sites — i.e., estab­lished and legit­i­mate pub­li­ca­tions — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Meth­bot and 3ve by the secu­rity researchers who found them, faked both. Huck­sters infected 1.7 mil­lion com­put­ers with mal­ware that remotely directed traf­fic to “spoofed” web­sites — “empty web­sites designed for bot traf­fic” that served up a video ad pur­chased from one of the internet’s vast pro­gram­matic ad-​exchanges, but that were designed, accord­ing to the indict­ments, “to fool adver­tis­ers into think­ing that an impres­sion of their ad was served on a pre­mium pub­lisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Econ­o­mist. Views, mean­while, were faked by malware-​infected com­put­ers with mar­velously sophis­ti­cated tech­niques to imi­tate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse move­ments, and social net­work login infor­ma­tion to mas­quer­ade as engaged human con­sumers.” Some were sent to browse the inter­net to gather track­ing cook­ies from other web­sites, just as a human vis­i­tor would have done through reg­u­lar behav­ior. Fake peo­ple with fake cook­ies and fake social-​media accounts, fake-​moving their fake cur­sors, fake-​clicking on fake web­sites — the fraud­sters had essen­tially cre­ated a sim­u­lacrum of the inter­net, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the inter­net is fake? Stud­ies gen­er­ally sug­gest that, year after year, less than 60 per­cent of web traf­fic is human; some years, accord­ing to some researchers, a healthy major­ity of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traf­fic was “bots mas­querad­ing as peo­ple,” a por­tion so high that employ­ees feared an inflec­tion point after which YouTube’s sys­tems for detect­ing fraud­u­lent traf­fic would begin to regard bot traf­fic as real and human traf­fic as fake. They called this hypo­thet­i­cal event “the Inversion.”

Last I checked, I’m real and try to keep it real. Really.

See you next year.

Juli­ette Akinyi Ochieng has been blog­ging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here. She pub­lished her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

Fol­low her on Face­book, Twit­ter, MeWe, and Gab.

Hit Da Tech Guy Blog’s Tip Jar or hit Juliette’s!

by baldilocks

A few years back, I was trolling Chelsea Handler on Twitter and was semi-shocked when one of her fans — some leftist (chick?) — claimed that I was a white man using a black woman’s photo for my profile.

Leftist delusion aside, now I understand it.

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

Last I checked, I’m real and try to keep it real. Really.

See you next year.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, MeWe, and Gab.

Hit Da Tech Guy Blog’s Tip Jar or hit Juliette’s!