Fighting Online Click-Fraud Using Bluff Ads

Hamed Haddadi
Appears in: 
CCR April 2010

Online advertising is currently the richest source of revenue for many Internet giants. The increased number of online businesses, specialized websites and modern profiling techniques have all contributed to an explosion of the income of ad brokers from online advertising. The single biggest threat to this growth, is however, click-fraud. Trained botnets and individuals are hired by click-fraud specialists in order to maximize the revenue of certain users from the ads they publish on their websites, or to launch an attack between competing businesses.

In this note we wish to raise the awareness of the networking research community on potential research areas within the online advertising field. As an example strategy, we present Bluff ads; a class of ads that join forces in order to increase the effort level for click-fraud spammers. Bluff ads are either targeted ads, with irrelevant display text, or highly relevant display text, with irrelevant targeting information. They act as a litmus test for the legitimacy of the individual clicking on the ads. Together with standard threshold-based methods, fake ads help to decrease click-fraud levels.

Public Review By: 
Adrian Perrig

On-line advertisement has become one of the most important funding models to support Internet sites. Given that large sums of money are involved in on-line advertisement, malicious parties are unfortunately attempting to gain an unfair advantage. Click-fraud attacks are one instance of such malicious behavior, where software imitates a human clicking on an advertisement link.
The goal of the paper is to raise awareness on potential research areas related to click-fraud attacks. The paper presents Bluff ads, a strategy to increase the effort of click-fraud spammers. Bluff ads areeither targeted ads, with irrelevant display text, or highly relevant display text, with irrelevant targeting information. The goal of Bluff adds is to work as a “Captcha” for the user legitimacy. If a large number of them is clicked, the user is deemed to be flagged as suspicious. A very early evaluation consisting of a simple experiment is presented in the paper. The experiment suggests that benign usersdo not click on Bluff adds.
Because of the importance of on-line advertising, click-fraud is an interesting and important area of research. The problem area is timely and needs further investigation. The proposed strategy is interesting, and also warrants further investigation.
We hope that this intriguing paper will excite readers and spur additional interest in this important area.