Hijacked ads can drain your Android phone's battery and data

Joanna Estrada
March 24, 2019

The scam was detailed in a 13-count indictment that brought charges against eight people surrounding their involvement in a digital advertising fraud scheme referred to as "3ve" and Methbot. While ad-free apps are ideal, often developer's only source of revenue is advertising.

The report states that the app developers are not the ones to be blamed in this. In some cases, there is an option to pay a fee to get rid of ads. Some ads in Android apps have been scamming people, though.

The app developer in question uses Twitter's MoPub ad platform. The scam, unearthed by fraud detection firm called Protected Media (with additional investigating by BuzzFeed), affected the banner ads in several Android apps. An investigation into the matter traced the ads back to Aniview, an Israeli company with offices in NY that has a video ad technology platform. Company chief Alon Carmel told BuzzFeed News that the perpetrator is an unknown bad actor who created an account on the platform and used the banner ad images designed by Outstream Media. "We notified and emphasized our clients that the use of our platform must be according to our policy and the IAB and TAG guidelines".

'Fraudsters are purchasing cheap in-app display inventory and are filling it with multiple video players behind innocuous fake branded display ads, ' Asaf Greiner, CEO of Protected Media, told BuzzFeed. They can make a lot of money doing this. They are not visible to users in any way, but can result in significant battery and data drain.

The ads aren't actually seen by anyone, as they're hid behind real ads, but the scammers still end up making money off of ad views.

Fake banner ads used in a scheme to collect ad revenue from running hidden video ads on Android phones
Fake banner ads used in a scheme to collect ad revenue from running hidden video ads on Android phones

Another advertising fraud investigation firm, DoubleVerify, said it has identified the same scheme towards the end of a year ago, with its vice-president of product management, Roy Rosenfeld, saying that the fraudsters "did a very good job at hiding and obfuscating what they were doing" and were "quite sophisticated in the thinking behind how they can monetise that inventory". Whatever the situation, Aniview tracking code and video technology were discovered in the fraudulent ads. Not all of those ad slots had actually been filled, but it underscores what a massive operation this can be, and already is to some extent.

'.To be crystal clear, another customer on Aniview's [self-serve] platform used this [video ad] player and is responsible for this activity and we took actions immediately to stop this activity.

It's a type of ad fraud known as Ad Stacking and it can be very lucrative.

If you've ever noticed your phone battery draining without reason, it might be because of a huge hidden video ad scheme now brought to light.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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