Mobile advertising fraud found to be high across uncertified but also certified apps

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Advertising fraud has been found in over half of uncertified apps and 8% of certified app traffic. That’s according to a new research paper by mobile advertising firm Sizmek. The Advertising Fraud in Mobile Apps white paper looked at a total of 300,000 apps of which 2,000 were manually tested as well as a total of 20bn impressions.

Certified apps are generally safer than uncertified apps due to verification and approval through official app stores and vendors. However, Sizmek did find some fraudulent apps across stores too, which defrauded advertisers by running invisible ads. Some adverts were running at a speed of 20-30 ads per minute. Half of all fraudulent traffic came from gaming apps.

Among the iOS uncertified apps, illegal downloads accounted for 70% of uncertified apps, with 50% performing maliciously and 30% of these apps having a significantly negative effect on device stability.

On Android, figures were a bit different with 56% of malicious activity and 30% of apps with high traffic not found across app platforms. 14% were low quality apps that did not perform a malicious action.

Malicious activity in uncertified apps

sizmek

Source: sizmek.com

In addition, the company found that overall 8% of Android apps were uncertified and 56% of them ran malicious adverts. In contrast, 2% of iOS apps were uncertified with most of them involved in illegal content activity such as downloads of movies and music.

OS malicious activity

sizmek

Source: sizmek.com

Indeed, uncertified app downloads are rather widespread, with 73% of them being downloaded over 10,000 times each, according to self-reports from alternative app stores or websites.

Uncertified app downloads

sizmek

Source: sizmek.com

To monitor and analyse fraudulent traffic from apps, Sizmek installed a sniffer on a Mac desktop connected to an iOS mobile device. Traffic from uncertified apps was monitored and the sniffer revealed fraudulent activity.

Sample list of uncertified apps once vShare was downloaded

sizmek

Source: sizmek.com

The study also discovered that illegal downloads and malicious apps make up around 8% of uncertified apps and 2% of uncertified impressions on Android.

Percentage of uncertified app downloads and uncertified impressions

sizmek

Source: sizmek.com

When it comes to app advertising fraud in mobile apps, the research offers some key actions that advertisers can take to avoid fraud in mobile apps such as filtering uncertified apps from media purchasing. Unstable and illegal downloads of apps can be avoided to safeguard brands and though certified apps aren’t immune to malicious activity, app stores can improve their app processing to exclude those that generate fraudulent impressions.