Advertisers: Be Warned of Late-Breaking Streaming TV-App Scam

If you advertise via streaming television, be on the alert. It was recently discovered that approximately one million Android devices became infected with malware that replicated streaming-TV apps. In a very sophisticated high-tech scam, this malware has been able to hack into and steal revenue intended for advertisers.

In a recent article for The Wall Street Journal, Patience Haggin and Jeff Horwitz reported on the discovery made by HUMAN, a cyber security company. This scam has imitated (or “spoofed”) 650 million ad placement opportunities—per day—in online ad exchanges. Undisclosed amounts of money that were intended for streaming apps that included Roku, Amazon, and Apple Inc., among others, have been diverted to and collected by the con artists behind this scam.

Not so new, either…

As reported by Thomas Brewster in Forbes, this scam has been operating as far back as 2019, which is evidence of its sophistication. Among the findings discovered by HUMAN, a total of 29 android apps that were promoted on Play market by Google were infected by the malware. Additionally, approximately 36 apps on Roku were also infected, but the level of thievery was not as high on this platform.

The machinations behind this malware

The replications of the apps had, what Brewster terms as a “software development kit” that created false views of the ads. These kits contain coding which significantly had not been checked for safety, thus providing the scammers convenient online passageway.

The vulnerable gap between buyer and seller in the digital ad space

Haggin and Horwitz point out that this recent large-scale scam is indicative of the vulnerability within digital advertising and streaming TV. The purchasing of ads is like an auction in that bids are made among buyers for available inventory who are eventually matched with third parties that are connected to the sellers. Since the channels of transaction are not directly between buyer and seller, the security is not as strong.

Solutions?

Researchers from HUMAN state that this scam, although not stopped, may be thwarted in the future so long as digital ad players pay close adherence to industry guidelines that track where the original malicious traffic started, in addition to putting specific security measures in place. Michael McNally, chief scientist of HUMAN, stated that a future solution would be the inclusion of specific identifiers that every industry stakeholder in the streaming device and digital ad space might be able to recognize to distinguish authenticity.

Since the discovery of this technological scam, every one of the infected apps has been removed, and the matter is being investigated by law enforcement.

As technology advances at a rapid pace, vigilance and safety measures must be equally advanced and upgraded.