Malicious code that makes video advertisements run invisibly behind banners sometimes causes the battery to drain faster and the data bundle is heavily taxed in Android apps. This method of hijacking ads in apps was discovered by fraud detection company Protected Media.
Although the rogue video ads are hidden behind legitimate ads, they generate revenue for the fraudsters. They start automatically and are then registered as ‘delivered and viewed’. The app developer still gets its share of the in-app ad, but that revenue often dwarfs what the hidden videos bring to the fraudster. It would be several tens of millions of euros per month.
Research by Protected Media and findings by journalists from news site BuzzFeed News revealed the Israeli company Aniview as one of the players involved in the ad fraud. Aniview has offices in New York and offers a video advertising technology platform. However, the company denies any involvement in the fraud and says the banners were hijacked by a criminal but unknown third party. According to Aniview, the hijacking of the banners has now been made impossible and an investigation has started. Affected customers have been notified, according to the company.
An app developer who wishes to remain anonymous tells BuzzFeed News that his main concern is the reputation of his app. “I don’t lose sleep over being cheated. It’s much more annoying for the users of the app, whose battery drains faster and data usage rises sharply. That really pisses me off.” The video ad fraud is also bad news for the companies that sell the ad. The banners are bought cheaply and then filled with expensive video ads, which would make this form of fraud very attractive to criminals.