Click fraud (wars)

Click fraud is carried out manually or automatically:

  • Manual clicks are not the most effective. Either the fraudster clicks on the ads himself or seeks help from friends, relatives or colleagues.

  • Click farms are banner ads, advertisements, videos or social network posts. *Bots to generate automatic clicks.

  • Botnets generate clicks thanks to several bots hosted on hacked servers (generating a large number of clicks under different IP addresses).


  • Publishers may wish to increase their income from advertisements.

  • The complex relationship of some advertising networks that are also publishers may create a conflict of interest, because these companies lose money to undetected click fraud when paying out to the publisher but make more money when collecting fees from the advertiser. Because of the spread between what they collect and pay out, click fraud could create short-term profits for these companies.

  • Competitors of advertisers may wish to harm a competitor who advertises in the same market by clicking on their ads. They do not profit directly but force the advertiser to pay for irrelevant clicks, thus weakening or eliminating a source of competition.

  • Competitors of publishers may wish to frame a publisher by making it look as if the publisher is clicking on their own ads, which can result in the relationship being terminated by the advertising network and puts them out of business.

  • There are many other motives for wishing to cause harm to either an advertiser or a publisher, that have nothing to do with money. Motives that are political and personal are the hardest to deal with.

  • Fans, family members, political party supporters, charity patrons or personal friends may click on the ads of a publisher to help. This can be considered patronage and can backfire when the publisher is accused of click fraud.


The practice of using bots and botnets to load, click on, and interact with ads in order to generate fraudulent income for “publishers” who run the bots, lead to countermeasures by advertisers. To detect abusive clicks, advertisers generally use the same tracking tools as those used to determine if a campaign is working. Google Analytics allows, for example, to observe variations in the number of clicks on the server side. Behaviours can be pointed out, such as the increase in visits despite a stagnating conversion rate. The apparently fraudulent clicks can then be compared with the web server log file. Information used:

  • The IP address

  • Timestamp of a click

  • Timestamp of an action on the site

  • The user-agent of the suspect consumer

Comparing timestamps helps to track clicks that may refer to the website, but which do not result in a conversion. If, for the same IP address, there are clearly many click timestamps but not a single action time stamp, then there are strong reasons to believe that there is click fraud. By identifying the user agent, advertisers can see if the clicks of a given IP address come from several users or from the same device.

If many clicks are clearly recorded for the same IP address, advertisers can check whether it is a proxy server. These communication interfaces are common in public Internet access, such as cafés, universities and airports. Proxy servers can sometimes be used to hide click fraud. An analysis of user behaviour on the site exposing the advertisement may then be useful. Repeated operating modes and unnatural and fluctuating navigation can strongly suggest the appearance of malicious clicks.

The IP addresses from which the fraud originates can be blocked by the operators of advertising networks. Ads are no longer distributed to users of this address, which eliminates false clicks. Another method used by advertisers to avoid click fraud is to carry out remarketing campaigns that only allow ads to be distributed to users who have already visited the site and who may have taken a specific action.

Another way to make money appeared: There are special companies that have dedicated themselves to finding out click fraud. They track the ads and examine the clicks more closely, automatically.


In order to defeat the advertisers’ countermeasures, the bots grew incredibly sophisticated: watching videos, filling in forms, and otherwise impersonating legitimate traffic, resulting in countercountercountermeasures.


  _Ad fraud works because the market for ads is so highly automated. Like algorithmic trading, decisions happen in fractions of a second, and matchmaking between publishers and advertisers is outside human control. It's a confusing world of demand side platforms, supply-side platforms, retargeting, pre-targeting, behavioral modeling, real-time bidding, ad exchanges, ad agency trading desks and a thousand other bits of jargon. Because the payment systems are also automated, it's easy to cash out of the game. And that's how the robots thrive. It boils down to this: fake websites serving real ads to fake traffic for real money. And it's costing advertisers a fortune._ 
  _Just how much money robot traffic absorbs is hard to track. The robots actually notice when they're being monitored and scale down their activity accordingly. Depending on estimates, ad fraud consumes from 10-50% of your ad budget. In some documented cases, over 90% of the ad traffic being monitored was non-human. So those profits to advertisers from mass surveillance—the fifteen to thirty percent boost in sales I mentioned—are an illusion. The gains are lost, like tears in the rain, to automated ad fraud. Advertisers end up right back where they started,still not knowing which half of their advertising budget is being wasted. Except in the process they've destroyed our privacy._
  _The winners in this game are the ones running the casino: big advertising networks, surveillance companies, and the whole brand-new industry known as “adTech”. The losers are small publishers and small advertisers. Universal click fraud drives down the value of all advertising, making it harder for niche publishers to make ends meet. And it ensures that any advertiser who doesn't invest heavily in countermeasures and tracking will get eaten alive. But the biggest losers are you and me. ~ [What Happens Next Will Amaze You, Maciej Cegłowski, September 2015](