Tag Archives: adware

Massive Ad Fraud Scheme Relied on BGP Hijacking

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/12/massive_ad_frau.html

This is a really interesting story of an ad fraud scheme that relied on hijacking the Border Gateway Protocol:

Members of 3ve (pronounced “eve”) used their large reservoir of trusted IP addresses to conceal a fraud that otherwise would have been easy for advertisers to detect. The scheme employed a thousand servers hosted inside data centers to impersonate real human beings who purportedly “viewed” ads that were hosted on bogus pages run by the scammers themselves­ — who then received a check from ad networks for these billions of fake ad impressions. Normally, a scam of this magnitude coming from such a small pool of server-hosted bots would have stuck out to defrauded advertisers. To camouflage the scam, 3ve operators funneled the servers’ fraudulent page requests through millions of compromised IP addresses.

About one million of those IP addresses belonged to computers, primarily based in the US and the UK, that attackers had infected with botnet software strains known as Boaxxe and Kovter. But at the scale employed by 3ve, not even that number of IP addresses was enough. And that’s where the BGP hijacking came in. The hijacking gave 3ve a nearly limitless supply of high-value IP addresses. Combined with the botnets, the ruse made it seem like millions of real people from some of the most affluent parts of the world were viewing the ads.

Lots of details in the article.

An aphorism I often use in my talks is “expertise flows downhill: today’s top-secret NSA programs become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacking tools.” This is an example of that. BGP hacking — known as “traffic shaping” inside the NSA — has long been a tool of national intelligence agencies. Now it is being used by cybercriminals.

EDITED TO ADD (1/2): Classified NSA presentation on “network shaping.” I don’t know if there is a difference inside the NSA between the two terms.

FBI Takes Down a Massive Advertising Fraud Ring

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/fbi_takes_down_.html

The FBI announced that it dismantled a large Internet advertising fraud network, and arrested eight people:

A 13-count indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Aleksandr Zhukov, Boris Timokhin, Mikhail Andreev, Denis Avdeev, Dmitry Novikov, Sergey Ovsyannikov, Aleksandr Isaev and Yevgeniy Timchenko with criminal violations for their involvement in perpetrating widespread digital advertising fraud. The charges include wire fraud, computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Ovsyannikov was arrested last month in Malaysia; Zhukov was arrested earlier this month in Bulgaria; and Timchenko was arrested earlier this month in Estonia, all pursuant to provisional arrest warrants issued at the request of the United States. They await extradition. The remaining defendants are at large.

It looks like an impressive piece of police work.

Details of the forensics that led to the arrests.

Android Ad-Fraud Scheme

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/10/android_ad-frau.html

BuzzFeed is reporting on a scheme where fraudsters buy legitimate Android apps, track users’ behavior in order to mimic it in a way that evades bot detectors, and then uses bots to perpetuate an ad-fraud scheme.

After being provided with a list of the apps and websites connected to the scheme, Google investigated and found that dozens of the apps used its mobile advertising network. Its independent analysis confirmed the presence of a botnet driving traffic to websites and apps in the scheme. Google has removed more than 30 apps from the Play store, and terminated multiple publisher accounts with its ad networks. Google said that prior to being contacted by BuzzFeed News it had previously removed 10 apps in the scheme and blocked many of the websites. It continues to investigate, and published a blog post to detail its findings.

The company estimates this operation stole close to $10 million from advertisers who used Google’s ad network to place ads in the affected websites and apps. It said the vast majority of ads being placed in these apps and websites came via other major ad networks.

Lots of details in both the BuzzFeed and the Google links.

The Internet advertising industry is rife with fraud, at all levels. This is just one scheme among many.

Facebook Is Using Your Two-Factor Authentication Phone Number to Target Advertising

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/10/facebook_is_usi.html

From Kashmir Hill:

Facebook is not content to use the contact information you willingly put into your Facebook profile for advertising. It is also using contact information you handed over for security purposes and contact information you didn’t hand over at all, but that was collected from other people’s contact books, a hidden layer of details Facebook has about you that I’ve come to call “shadow contact information.” I managed to place an ad in front of Alan Mislove by targeting his shadow profile. This means that the junk email address that you hand over for discounts or for shady online shopping is likely associated with your account and being used to target you with ads.

Here’s the research paper. Hill again:

They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user’s account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks. So users who want their accounts to be more secure are forced to make a privacy trade-off and allow advertisers to more easily find them on the social network.

Google Won’t Take Down ‘Pirate’ VLC With Five Million Downloads

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/google-wont-take-down-pirate-vlc-with-five-million-downloads-180206/

VLC is the media player of choice for Internet users around the globe. Downloaded for desktop at least 2,493,000,000 times since February 2005, VLC is an absolute giant. And those figures don’t even include GNU/Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome OS or Windows Phone downloads either.

Aside from its incredible functionality, VLC (operated by the VideoLAN non-profit) has won the hearts of Internet users for other key reasons, not least its commitment to being free and open source software. While it’s true to say that VLC doesn’t cost a penny, the term ‘free’ actually relates to the General Public License (GPL) under which it’s distributed.

The GPL aims to guarantee that software under it remains ‘free’ for all current and future users. To benefit from these protections, the GPL requires people who modify and redistribute software to afford others the same freedoms by informing them of the requirement to make source code available.

Since VLC is extremely popular and just about as ‘free’ as software can get, people get extremely defensive when they perceive that a third-party is benefiting from the software without adhering to the terms of the generous GPL license. That was the case beginning a few hours ago when veteran Reddit user MartinVanBallin pointed out a piece of software on the Google Play Store.

“They took VLC, put in ads, didn’t attribute VLC or follow the open source license, and they’re using Media Player Classics icon,” MartinVanBallin wrote.

The software is called 321 Media Player and has an impressive 4.5 score from more than 101,000 reviews. Despite not mentioning VLC or the GPL, it is based completely on VLC, as the image below (and other proof) shows.

VLC Media Player 321 Media Player

TorrentFreak spoke with VideoLAN President Jean-Baptiste Kempf who confirmed that the clone is in breach of the GPL.

“The Android version of VLC is under the license GPLv3, which requires everything inside the application to be open source and sharing the source,” Kempf says.

“This clone seems to use a closed-source advertisement component (are there any that are open source?), which is a clear violation of our copyleft. Moreover, they don’t seem to share the source at all, which is also a violation.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing is the popularity of the software. According to stats provided by Google, 321 Media Player has amassed between five and ten million downloads. That’s not an insignificant amount when one considers that unlike VLC, 321 Media Player contains revenue-generating ads.

Using GPL-licensed software for commercial purposes is allowed providing the license terms are strictly adhered to. Kempf informs TF that VideoLAN doesn’t mind if this happens but in this case, the GPL is not being respected.

“A fork application which changes some things is an interesting thing, because they maybe have something to give back to our community. The application here, is just a parasite, and I think they are useless and dangerous,” Kempf says.

All that being said, turning VLC itself into adware is something the VideoLAN team is opposed to. In fact, according to questions answered by Kempf last September, the team turned down “several tens of millions of euros” to turn their media player into an ad-supported platform.

“Integrating crap, adware and spyware with VLC is not OK,” Kempf informs TF.

TorrentFreak contacted the developer of 321 Media Player for comment but at the time of publication, we were yet to receive a response. We also asked for a copy of the source code for 321 Media Player as the GPL requires, but that wasn’t forthcoming either.

In the meantime, it appears that a small army of Reddit users are trying to get something done about the ‘rogue’ app by reporting it as an “inappropriate copycat” to Google. Whether this will have any effect remains to be seen but according to Kempf, tackling these clone versions has proven extremely difficult in the past.

“We reported this application already more than three times and Google refuses to take it down,” he says.

“Our experience is that it is very difficult to take these kinds of apps down, even if they embed spyware or malware. Maybe it is because it makes money for Google.”

Finally, Kempf also points to the obviously named “Indian VLC Player” on Google Play. Another VLC clone with up to 500,000 downloads, this one appears to breach both copyright and trademark law.

“We remove applications that violate our policies, such as apps that are illegal,” a Google spokesperson informs TorrentFreak.

“We don’t comment on individual applications; you can check out our policies for more information.”

Update: The app has now been removed from Google Play

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Detecting Adblocker Blockers

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/detecting_adblo.html

Interesting research on the prevalence of adblock blockers: “Measuring and Disrupting Anti-Adblockers Using Differential Execution Analysis“:

Abstract: Millions of people use adblockers to remove intrusive and malicious ads as well as protect themselves against tracking and pervasive surveillance. Online publishers consider adblockers a major threat to the ad-powered “free” Web. They have started to retaliate against adblockers by employing anti-adblockers which can detect and stop adblock users. To counter this retaliation, adblockers in turn try to detect and filter anti-adblocking scripts. This back and forth has prompted an escalating arms race between adblockers and anti-adblockers.

We want to develop a comprehensive understanding of anti-adblockers, with the ultimate aim of enabling adblockers to bypass state-of-the-art anti-adblockers. In this paper, we present a differential execution analysis to automatically detect and analyze anti-adblockers. At a high level, we collect execution traces by visiting a website with and without adblockers. Through differential execution analysis, we are able to pinpoint the conditions that lead to the differences caused by anti-adblocking code. Using our system, we detect anti-adblockers on 30.5% of the Alexa top-10K websites which is 5-52 times more than reported in prior literature. Unlike prior work which is limited to detecting visible reactions (e.g., warning messages) by anti-adblockers, our system can discover attempts to detect adblockers even when there is no visible reaction. From manually checking one third of the detected websites, we find that the websites that have no visible reactions constitute over 90% of the cases, completely dominating the ones that have visible warning messages. Finally, based on our findings, we further develop JavaScript rewriting and API hooking based solutions (the latter implemented as a Chrome extension) to help adblockers bypass state-of-the-art anti-adblockers.

News article.

FossHub Forced to Pull Google Ads From qBitTorrent Downloads

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/fosshub-forced-to-pull-google-ads-from-qbittorrent-downloads-170721/

There are no shortage of sites on the Internet that promise free software downloads but few do so with no strings attached. Thousands bundle adware and worse with ‘free’ software, while others bombard visitors with ads.

FossHub, on the other hand, does things very differently.

FossHub only offers free software, with no adware, spyware or malware attached. It doesn’t bombard users with advertising either. In fact, its download pages only have a single ad at the top. Well, that’s the plan at least but when it comes to BitTorrent software, things haven’t been so straightforward recently.

The problem centered around qBitTorrent, the free and open-source torrent client developed as an alternative to µTorrent. FossHub makes the client available in its file-sharing section and as the image below shows, has racked up close to 18 million downloads.

Previously, when people viewed the qBitTorrent page, they were presented with a single advert, courtesy of Google. However, a couple of months ago the guys at FossHub contacted the people behind the client to say they’d had problems with AdSense persistently flagging the qBitTorrent page as “unauthorized file sharing.”

“The consequence was that it stopped generating revenue for that page for FossHub,” a member of the qBitTorrent team explains.

TorrentFreak spoke with Sam at FossHub who provided more details.

“FossHub has hosted qBittorrent and other free projects binaries for almost a decade. For qBitorrent, we hosted its files for at least three years by now. We provide all the necessary bandwidth and other things that the project might need,” Sam said.

“It was not a problem for the last three years to show the single Google Adsense ad until the beginning of last month (June 2017) when we noticed a Policy violation message appearing under our account.

“Since we didn’t have any major issues with our account, we thought it must be a false positive. We tried to get in touch with Google AdSense team, but unfortunately, we received some (at least that what we think) standard canned responses.”

Sam says that FossHub wrote to Google AdSense support several times but never got to the bottom of the problem. Then, something catastrophic happened.

During June, presumably due to the problems with the qBitTorrent page, the entire FossHub site was banned by AdSense for seven days, thereby stopping the site from generating any revenue on any of the software offered.

“We wrote on a daily basis and attempted to request another review, but there was no human so that we can talk and try to obtain an answer,” Sam explained.

In the absence of any feedback, FossHub then took the decision to stop placing ads on any of the software available in its file-sharing section, despite none of the tools being illegal or infringing anyone’s copyrights. In a follow-up post on Reddit this week, FossHub underlined that fact.

“qBitorrent and other similar apps are legit software. You are responsible for what you choose to download and share,” a representative from the site wrote.

“Many free projects and sites publish their files via .torrent files. Just an excellent example of how qBitorrent and other similar clients can help you download files and allow GIMP project to save bandwidth: https://www.gimp.org/downloads/.”

The qBitTorrent team say they have made this matter public out of “frustration and protest”, not only due to the legality of file-sharing software but also in support of FossHub, who have helped qBitTorrent many times over the years.

“I keep wondering why the multitude of other unofficial sites, which are very popular and place ads on their qBittorrent pages too, aren’t being flagged too?” a member of the team responded.

“In any case, I am writing this to inform our user base about Google’s shenanigans. And if any of you works at AdSense, then please help FossHub talk to a real person or treat all sites fair by allowing or not allowing BitTorrent clients.”

Whether Google will take the opportunity to clarify the situation remains to be seen but it’s abundantly clear that the qBitTorrent software is not only entirely legal, it’s also one of the most respected torrent clients around.

“Despite this unpleasant incident we will support and help free projects such as qBitorrent as much as we can,” FossHub concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Using Ultrasonic Beacons to Track Users

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/using_ultrasoni.html

I’ve previously written about ad networks using ultrasonic communications to jump from one device to another. The idea is for devices like televisions to play ultrasonic codes in advertisements and for nearby smartphones to detect them. This way the two devices can be linked.

Creepy, yes. And also increasingly common, as this research demonstrates:

Privacy Threats through Ultrasonic Side Channels on Mobile Devices

by Daniel Arp, Erwin Quiring, Christian Wressnegger and Konrad Rieck

Abstract: Device tracking is a serious threat to the privacy of users, as it enables spying on their habits and activities. A recent practice embeds ultrasonic beacons in audio and tracks them using the microphone of mobile devices. This side channel allows an adversary to identify a user’s current location, spy on her TV viewing habits or link together her different mobile devices. In this paper, we explore the capabilities, the current prevalence and technical limitations of this new tracking technique based on three commercial tracking solutions. To this end, we develop detection approaches for ultrasonic beacons and Android applications capable of processing these. Our findings confirm our privacy concerns: We spot ultrasonic beacons in various web media content and detect signals in 4 of 35 stores in two European cities that are used for location tracking. While we do not find ultrasonic beacons in TV streams from 7 countries, we spot 234 Android applications that are constantly listening for ultrasonic beacons in the background without the user’s knowledge.

News article. BoingBoing post.

Advances in Ad Blocking

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/04/advances_in_ad_.html

Ad blockers represent the largest consumer boycott in human history. They’re also an arms race between the blockers and the blocker blockers. This article discusses a new ad-blocking technology that represents another advance in this arms race. I don’t think it will “put an end to the ad-blocking arms race,” as the title proclaims, but it will definitely give the blockers the upper hand.

The software, devised by Arvind Narayanan, Dillon Reisman, Jonathan Mayer, and Grant Storey, is novel in two major ways: First, it looks at the struggle between advertising and ad blockers as fundamentally a security problem that can be fought in much the same way antivirus programs attempt to block malware, using techniques borrowed from rootkits and built-in web browser customizability to stealthily block ads without being detected. Second, the team notes that there are regulations and laws on the books that give a fundamental advantage to consumers that cannot be easily changed, opening the door to a long-term ad-blocking solution.

Now if we could only block the data collection as well.