TechLand Blog

User Agents and their daily spoof – Agents of Ad Fraud 🤫

Be whatever role you play at work. If you’re a tech geek – you must have come across the word “user-agent” at least once. For this Internet Generation – user-agent is a part of our day to day lives. 

According to Wikipedia, “it’s a software that is acting on behalf of a user, such as a web browser that “retrieves, renders and facilitates end-user interaction with Web content.”

The User-Agent generates a string of data; for example, my laptop’s user string looks like this: 

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/79.0.3945.88 Safari/537.36

When this string is checked against the right tool, it gives out a series of information such as the web browser name and version, the operating system we use, device type, resolution, pixels, and much more. The most important reason this data is needed is when a user requests a Web Page, many websites check the type of browser being used to render a page to load correctly in the browser/device requesting it. The Web servers also use user-agents for various purposes, like showing different content for different Operating Systems or displaying a trimmed down version of the content for a mobile device. It’s also used to show statistical and analytical data by many platforms like Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, etc.

Now, since you understand what’s a user-agent and its role in the internet industry, let’s learn its involvement in the Digital Ads industry and its relation to Ad Fraud.

Tools like Google Analytics capture this user-agent data when a user clicks on your ad and lands on your page. Your website’s Google Analytics script captures the referral source data to display this information on their dashboard.

When your site gets traffic (organic or paid), you must be using a platform with a dashboard where you can see this data. And if you further dig down, you would find 20% of your traffic has the same user-agents. Although fraudsters and their methods have become more advanced, few still send fraud traffic in bulk from farms that consist of the same user-agents. Once you find out about these user-agents, there are ways you can even block them. Since this is a sophisticated fraud, – closely monitoring their behavioral pattern is the key to catching this anomaly in your traffic and necessary. We’ve all tried blocking IP Addresses, and that didn’t help much, did they?

After scanning billions of clicks at ClearTrust, we found plenty of these user-agents roaming the internet and spoofing advertisers. Being a part of the Digital Advertising Industry is not just about methods and ways to create traffic. We need to have a keen look at the traffic that we’re buying and eliminate fraud, or we’ll end up wasting our ad spends on invalid traffic making fraudsters richer every day.

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