Cyber security has focused mainly on things like identity theft, network breaches, and fraudulent transactions for the better part of 20 years. Focusing on these key areas have allowed tech companies to develop very effective solutions for fighting cybercrime. But there is another problem that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention: advertising fraud. Could it now be the biggest cyber security threat out there?

An opinion piece published my Info Security in December 2022 makes that case. Author Adam French cites data showing that advertising fraud worldwide cost organizations some $65 billion in 2021. That’s more than twice the number of fraudulent transactions incurred by digital payment systems.

Tens of billions of dollars in losses obviously raise a huge red flag. But why have things gotten so bad? With the global effort put into cyber security over the last two decades, why has advertising fraud been allowed to flourish?

It’s a Marketing Problem

French posits an interesting theory: advertising fraud has been dismissed as little more than a marketing problem. Moreover, organizations have left the marketing department on its own to figure out how to stop it. But most marketing departments – and IT departments for that matter – are ill-equipped to do anything meaningful.

One of their biggest challenges, according to Fraud Blocker, is that there are so many ways to perpetrate ad fraud. The term itself is a very broad one. It incorporates a wide variety of practices ranging from click fraud to affiliate marketing fraud.

Of course, a practice like click fraud can also be perpetrated in many ways. The fact is that marketing departments are looking at dozens of potential problems, many of which are undetectable without the proper tools and sufficient knowledge of what to look for.

It’s Also an Acknowledgment Problem

French also says that too few organizations even acknowledge that ad fraud exists. Whether they are like ostriches putting their heads in the sand or simply lack the knowledge to even understand it, failing to acknowledge ad fraud equates to not doing anything about it.

For marketing teams, there is a general acceptance of the idea that PPC ads will generate a certain amount of invalid traffic. The invalid traffic is discounted as a normal part of doing business in the PPC space. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking only encourages criminals to continue doing what they do.

For the IT team, ad fraud detection and avoidance are way down on the list of priorities. The first priority is generally preventing network breaches and data theft. Teams concentrate on these two areas because they get the most attention from management.

Ignoring It Won’t Make It Go Away

French makes some very compelling points about the existence of advertising fraud and our seeming inability to stop it. Perhaps the biggest take-away for this writer is the realization that ignoring ad fraud will not make it go away any more than ignoring floodwaters will make them recede.

Cyber security experts have done a fantastic job minimizing network attacks, data breaches, and the like. They still put quite a bit of effort into stopping those major threats because they have no other choice but to do so. Still, that is no excuse for ignoring advertising fraud.

Ad fraud will continue costing advertisers and publishers tens of billions of dollars annually until something meaningful is done to stop it. Ad fraud detection software is a good first step, but it is far from the only solution. We have a lot more work to do before we can claim ad fraud is under control.

By Rehan

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