DOJ indict eight people for online-ad scams

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has unsealed an indictment on Tuesday, charging eight people allegedly involved in the online advertising scams 3ve and Methbot, according to a DOJ press release.

Each of the eight suspects were accused of plastering fake online-ad scams on websites to obtain fraudulent revenue, costing businesses in the U.S. around $36m.

According to the release, the DOJ said their online ads were never viewed by “real human customers”.

Six of the offenders were from Russia, while the other two were from Kazakhstan. Felony charges levied against them include computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and wire fraud, the DOJ wrote.

“They represented to others that they ran legitimate ad networks that delivered advertisements to real human internet users accessing real internet web pages,” the document states.

“In fact, the defendants faked both the users and the web pages: in each of the charged schemes, they programmed computers they controlled to load advertisements on fabricated webpages, via an automated program, in order to fraudulently obtain digital advertising revenue.”

In one scheme, called ‘Methbot’, fake ads allegedly raked in $7m in revenue in 2014. The second scheme, ‘3ve’, gathered a revenue of $29m between December 2015 and October 2018, according to a release from the DOJ.

“Intricate infrastructure of command-and-control servers”

For the 3ve scheme, the defendants used a global “a network of malware-infected computers operated without the true owner’s knowledge or consent to perpetuate their fraud.”

“The defendants developed an intricate infrastructure of command-and-control servers to direct and monitor the infected computers and check whether a particular infected computer had been flagged by cybersecurity companies as associated with fraud,” DOJ said.

DOJ said that Google and Microsoft worked with law enforcement and security agencies to uncover the digital-ad schemes.

On Tuesday, Google also published a white paper explaining how they worked with WhiteOps and FBI agents to uncover any relevant information related to the two fake advertisment scams.

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