An unknown criminal group has made a “technically complex” construction of bogus websites and video streaming platforms that defrauded Google Ads users and made at least $1.2 million a month for over a year, experts have revealed.
A report from cybersecurity researchers Malwarebytes and Deepsee analyzed an illegal video streaming operation and uncovered a complex and creative way the authors earned their keep.
They named the operation DeepStreamer, which operated around a website called mikerin, which the pair found was loading ads “deep under the content of” a separate website called moviesjoy.
Hiding the ads in plain sight
Moviesjoy was the streaming website that offered its visitors free HD movies and TV series with “absolutely zero ads” on the site. “Once you hit the play button, you can start streaming right away, without any interruptions in the middle,” the site claims.
The ads, however, were there - they were just embedded and hidden. What the researchers had uncovered was a trick in which ads from “seemingly regular websites” were being loaded on the movie site, but not shown anywhere.
The legitimate websites are embedded and hidden into the page via iFrames, the researchers found, while the users watching the video content were completely unaware of their existence.
In total, four Google ads would load per page. The page would reload from time to time, bringing in fresh ads.
The users and visitors of the illegal website aren’t the ones being defrauded here, though. It’s Google Ads users, those who are paying Google to display their ads to relevant audiences, who are not getting their money’s worth. While one might argue that the pirates tried too hard and could have simply displayed the ads to their visitors - the researchers said Google would probably not allow it.
Furthermore, “there is no way legitimate advertisers (meaning those that would pay more) would accept traffic coming from a site offering pirated movies,” they concluded.
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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.