What Can Data Do to Stop Cybercrime?

Content Takeover Big Data & Analytics

While cybercriminals are likely too clever for ad fraud to be completely eradicated, companies are able to use data to keep them at bay.

The most valuable data is that around identifying “bad actors,” sites that enable criminal activity. Anyone with access to Excel can spot ad inventory anomalies, but actually dealing with fraud is much more complex, as cybercrime is a relatively new phenomenon, said Michael Tiffany, chief executive (CEO) of online fraud detection firm WhiteOps, speaking at a recent AdExchanger Clean Ads I/O conference . 

“This was not a widely-recognized problem until the parasite became big enough to threaten the host,” Tiffany explained. “It’s not an issue of falling asleep at the wheel and not being responsible. It’s an issue of being victim to extremely sophisticated criminals.”

John Nitti, chief investment officer at Zenith Optimedia, believes mobile is one area that’s particularly vulnerable to these criminals, given the exponential growth it’s seen in a relatively short time. Because of mobile’s “immaturity” as a platform, security and fraud detection are less established and therefore, easier to hack.

While Zenith Optimedia has 50 data scientists on staff, many brands and financial institutions combat cybercrime by stacking their security teams with reformed hackers. That’s why a combination of automation and human eyes is the best way to combat cybercrime, Nitti said.

“Those people know how to best defend against [cybercrime]; that’s the sort of psyche you’re dealing with,” Nitti said. “You need the human element to say, ‘This is what I’m looking for, here’s how they can program to try and trick me, here’s the algorithm [a computer] is not going to pick up.”

Collaboration is another method of fighting cybercrime, according to Nitti.

“If you’re putting your data in silos, you’re inherently taking away the ability to have a truly holistic view of how the consumer sees you,” he said, drawing a parallel to the marketing world.

Rather than discovering fraudulent ads and keeping that information to yourself, if you share your findings with other businesses that may have also been hit, you’re that much more likely to make things more difficult for the cybercriminals, if not stop them altogether.

Douglas de Jager, engineering lead and manager for Google Ad Traffic Quality, agreed that collaborating is key, especially given the lack of industry standards. He noted that teamwork is also important because of the way “fraudulent arbitrage” spreads.

“If someone buys automated traffic and it follows a link, that means high-quality sites also end up with this traffic,” de Jager said, adding that cybercriminals are often drawn to major websites because of the greater potential payouts. “Some criminals crawl particular sites because the content is good, like eBay. There are auction bots masquerading as legitimate people. The fact that eBay does a good job [dealing with them] ends up raising the bar for these particular scrapers.”

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