Domain Laundering Emerges as Significant Threat in Digital Ad Ecosystem
Domain laundering, or the act of obscuring a publisher’s domain in an attempt to profit by selling low-value placements at high prices, is an emerging threat that has received recent and well-deserved attention. In what follows, we describe some of the major challenges and consequences of domain laundering, how domain laundering can be identified, and details of one particular instance of laundering found in the wild.
Through our global measurement panel, Comscore has the ability to gather data that can be used to effectively identify domain laundering. Specifically, panel data can be used to identify ad placements on publisher pages that receive a high volume of ads, and it also enables the reconstruction of ad call sequences for each placement. These capabilities are a necessary starting point for the systematic analysis and detection of domain laundering.
To illustrate the details of domain laundering, the following is an example of this threat that was identified in the Comscore panel data. The figure below is an animated screen capture showing the result of loading a URL. The browser loads the URL and displays an ad. The loaded page consists of several nested iframes.
The consequences of domain laundering are serious. High value domains have their brand value reduced through dilution. Legitimate domains that are not among the most visited in the web may have their ads misattributed to higher-value domains and thereby miss an opportunity for monetization. Finally, the level of trust placed in ad metrics is eroded and the resulting damage of this aspect of laundering is global.
The good news is that for every instance of domain laundering that we have observed, the bad actor has been detected through the application of Comscore’s comprehensive non-human traffic (NHT) filters. The list of domains participating in invalid activity is a key starting point for our domain laundering detection and mitigation activities. More broadly, detecting new threats and assessing their potential risk requires the right mix of perspective, insight and experience. An essential component of accuracy in fraud detection is having the right data sources. Detection of domain laundering is just one part of the much broader issue of advertising security that we are pursuing at Comscore. We are motivated by our mission to deliver trusted audience and advertising metrics.
Learn more about Comscore NHT triple detection.