Malware / Unsplash
(Photo : Unsplash)

Aleksandr Zhukov, the self-proclaimed "king of fraud," just recently stood on trial for defrauding the advertising industry for more than $7 million dollars.

The fraud was said to be the most sophisticated campaign to this date, but just how was it? 

Zhukov and his team employed techniques that found loopholes in gaming and digital advertising systems.

How Did He Do It?

He and his team took over the data center infrastructure and were able to infect consumer devices.

The infected devices then created armies of bots that then created billions of fake ad views per day. Tamer Hassan spoke with TechRadar Pro, saying, "This internet that we love is fueled by slices of human attention."

Hassan also said that "botnets" engage with ads, watch TV, listen to music, manipulate ads and public sentiment. The botnets basically mimic what other humans can do, only a million or billion times more.

Botnets come in all forms that can be used for various kinds of cybercrime, such as DDoS attacks, data theft like confidential data, spam, sniping stocks on e-commerce websites are examples of what botnets could do. 

Zhukov has assembled two different types of botnets since 2016. Their primary purpose is to defraud members within the online advertising ecosystem Methbot and 3ve. 

Read More: Mirai Botnet Creators Plead Guilty: Here's What The 3 Hackers Did And What Awaits Them

How Were Methbot and 3ve Created?

The Record explained that Zhukov and his group created more than 250,000 URLs within 6,000 spoof domains. They mimicked major publishers to deceive the algorithm, which determines what type of ads are placed within certain criteria.

Using the data center's infrastructure together with IP addresses acquired through forged registration data, they launched a massive stream of fake traffic towards the ads.

The ads translated to pay-per-click revenue, and at its peak, it was able to create 300 million video ad views per day.

3ve was even more insidious since it was run by both the data center infrastructure, and 1.7 million Windows devices that were all infected via malvertising. This botnet was able to generate 12 billion fake requests per day and spread across 10,000 spoof domains.

3ve was able to avoid authority and detection as it was able to mimic human behaviors, like clicks and mouse movement.

Why Do People Like Zhukov Do What They Do?

One of the major reasons fraudsters continue creating highly systemized botnets is because of the high-profit risk with very little risk.

Recently, cybercriminal operations would be caught and have their operation shut down, and that's it. Now, extradition and prosecution are added to the mix, which causes potential cybercriminals to think again.

With so many stakeholders invested in the digital advertising ecosystem, it can be very difficult to pinpoint who is solely in charge of stopping fraud campaigns. Finding fraud campaigns can be similar to finding a needle in a digital haystack, especially with intelligent botnets. 

Zhukov and his team's setup was eventually found by a collaboration of tech and intelligence agencies that lasted for two years. It took 30 private companies and six international agencies to apprehend Zhukov and his team, ultimately shutting the operation down.

Read More: Malware Apps on Google Play Added Devices to A Botnet, Proving Google Is Still Terrible at Reviewing Apps

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Written by Alec G.

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