“It appears that the drop in keyword Cost Per Clicks (CPCs) and the progress Yahoo! and Google made blocking click fraud from botnet sources contributed to the decline in the overall click fraud rate this quarter,” Tom Cuthbert, president of Click Forensics, said in a statement. “However, we also saw an increase in scripted attacks aimed at ad networks, which are historically more vulnerable to such threats. Advertisers should pay close attention to traffic from these sources over the next year.”
The data also indicated that click fraud schemes are increasingly complex, sophisticated, and more difficult to detect. One new type of fraud discovered this quarter was perpetrated by malicious scripts that execute when a visitor views a web page disguised as relevant content or search results. The script initiates “Zero-iframe” or off-screen clicks that route the visitor session through an alias referrer website, and on to unsuspecting advertisers who pay for the phantom click. All this occurs transparently to the offending site’s visitor; they never see the ad or visit the advertiser, and their computer is not infected with any type of malware or botnet.
There were several factors that seemed to contribute to the overall decline. First there was the expected drop from the seasonally high click fraud rates in Q4. In addition, lower Cost Per Clicks for keywords last quarter meant there was less money to be made on fraud. Finally, the major search engines did a better job blocking fraudulent traffic from botnet sources, possibly due to the heightened awareness of well-publicized attacks such as Conficker.
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