Startup tapping cybersecurity market to stop digital ad fraud | Crain's Atlanta

Startup tapping cybersecurity market to stop digital ad fraud

While looking at your phone, an ad pops up, you shut it, and then another pops up and then another.

There’s a chance some of those ads are fraudulent and funneling money to cyber criminals. One of Atlanta’s newest startups, Dev/Con Detect, aims to detect and prevent fraud as well as find the source and help recover revenue.

“Ad fraud is a money laundering operation,” said Maggie Louie, co-founder and CEO of Dev/Con Detect, an advertising technology security company that moved its headquarters to Atlanta after raising $1.3 million in seed funding.

“There are many ways that hackers and extended criminal enterprise can exploit online advertising in order to steal, generate fraudulent revenue and to launder money," she said. "They pay pennies to target the ads across large popular sites. Once the ad runs on the site, it deploys the malicious code, leaving behind the bogus ads.”

Louie noted that the hackers slip through because there’s little identification required for placing these ads.

Borrell Associates, a Virginia digital advertising consulting firm, noted in a report on ad fraud, the fraud has “affected local publishers large and small, some to the tune of millions of dollars.”

Kip Cassino, executive vice president at Borrell, said programmatic placement – the automated buying and delivering of digital ads – continues to fuel the fraud.

Last year, digital ad fraud hit $6.5 billion, according to a report from the Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps, a company specializing in detecting and preventing digital fraud. Borrell forecasted that the fraud will grow to $15 billion in 2021.

“The biggest challenge is it crosses national borders,” said Cassino. “Even if you find out who’s doing it, it may take years to put a case together.”

Catching the fraud is only one piece of the cybersecurity industry. Menlo Park, California-based research firm, Cybersecurity Ventures, has predicted that $1 trillion will be spent on cybersecurity products and services across the globe.

A big reason Dev/Con moved to Atlanta is the city is “becoming a well-established cybersecurity community,” Louie said.

Atlanta has long been a financial technology hub and the sector relies heavily on cybersecurity to protect the digital economy.

Pindrop Security, SecureWorks, NexDefense and Ionic Security, also have helped build the region’s credentials in cybersecurity technology. Each are on the Cybersecurity 500, a worldwide ranking of the hottest and most innovative companies. Then there is Georgia Tech. Two years ago, Georgia Tech created the Institute for Information Security and Privacy led by senior researchers from the university and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Dev/Con has been operating from Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center.

Louie, whose digital experience includes the Los Angeles Times and E. W. Scripps Co., wouldn’t disclose the customers Dev/Con has picked up. The customers typically don’t like it known that they have had fraud issues, she said.

Louie said Dev/Con is differentiating itself from others by digging deeper into the fraud.

“We’re actually looking for the accounts the fraud is going through,” she said.  

Dev/Con looks for the injected tags – the JavaScript used for ad delivery. Louie said a lot of media companies don’t know that their sites are being injected with the bad tags.

“We’ve made a lot of headway in stopping mobile pop-ups,” she said.

February 12, 2018 - 1:33pm