July 22, 2008, 12:00 AM

Automated attacks play a bigger role in click fraud, Click Forensics says

Botnets, networks of computers that hackers string together to launch automated attacks and fraud schemes, for the first time accounted for more than 25% of click fraud in the second quarter, according to Click Forensics.

There was little change in the amount of click fraud on online ads in the second quarter, but there was a noticeable change in the source of that fraud, says Click Forensics, a company that monitors fraudulent clicks on online ads. For the first time, more than 25% of illegitimate clicks came from botnets, networks of computers that hackers take over to use in automated fraud schemes and attacks.

“Although click fraud rates were relatively unchanged in the second quarter, we found that the methods used to commit click fraud have become increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to detect,” says Tom Cuthbert, president of Click Forensics. “The threat from botnets is the biggest concern as they have grown to cause over one quarter of all click fraud. Online advertisers should be extra vigilant in watching for traffic from botnets in their search marketing campaigns.”

Overall, 16.2% of clicks on online ads were fraudulent in the second quarter, compared with 16.3% in the first quarter and 15.8% in the second quarter of 2007. The average click fraud rate on pay-per-click ads on search engine content networks, including Google AdSense and the Yahoo Publisher Network, was 27.6%, down from 27.8% in Q1 and up from 25.6% in the first quarter of last year.

The greatest incidence of click fraud originating from outside of North America came from China (4.3%), Russia (3.5%) and France (3.2%), Click Forensics says.

Click Forensics compiles its Click Fraud Index from data provided by more than 4,000 online advertisers and agencies.

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