Sophisticated mobile ad fraud has peaked at 12 billion requests per day

Briefly: Researchers from security firm Human Security recently revealed one of the largest and most sophisticated mobile ad attacks they’ve seen to date. Dubbed Vastflux, the well-orchestrated campaign affected millions of phones and robbed hundreds of ad companies and app makers — and likely made its operators a big spender.

fastflux It was first discovered by Human Security last year while working on a separate threat. It worked by targeting a single ad slot instead of the user’s entire phone or an entire app. Once a group wins an ad slot via the advertisers’ auction, they will insert malicious code that allows them to stack multiple video ads on top of each other.

The end user would only see one video ad, but behind the scenes, the attacker was actually feeding them up to 25 video ads stacked on top of each other. They’ll get paid for each ad as if they were shown individually, and the group has spoofed details from hundreds of apps to make it appear as if several apps were involved in the campaign. Furthermore, the attack only allowed certain tags to be attached to help stay under the radar. Multiple domains were also used to launch the attacks.

From an end user’s perspective, the only hint that something is wrong is faster battery drain as your phone has processed all the fraudulent ads in the background.

Human Security has yet to name the group behind the attack nor say how likely they may have pulled off the scheme, but it’s likely a huge amount. At its peak in June 2022, the attack was making 12 billion ad requests per day. Vastflux mainly targeted iOS devices but some Android phones were also infected. In total, around 11 million devices are believed to have been affected.

Last summer, the security company and its partners launched an attack with a series of mitigation measures. By December, the group behind the campaign took its servers offline and has been silent ever since.

Image credit: Tema Miroshnichenko

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