Why Seller Security Risk Assessments Can Make Marketers Mad

By Peter Bernstein May 19, 2015

We live in a world where e-commerce is increasingly becoming the way transactions take place. It is a world where programmatic advertising is foundational as the lubricant for encouraging and supporting the robust growth of the Internet as a dominant engine of economic vitality.  And it is a world based on the creation and sustenance of trust between buyers and sellers.  If buyers do not perceive that their online interactions are trustworthy in terms of all aspects of transactions being secure, as we are all aware from the headlines, the consequences can be swift and catastrophic. 

The issue of determining if websites are trustworthy leads to an interesting conundrum for buyers and sellers.  Buyers obviously are less likely to transact if they think their personal data and ultimately their financial assets can be compromised. Sellers understand that any doubt about the safety of interacting with them can destroy brand loyalty and reputation, and do, literally in seconds.

Image via Shutterstock

One way for everyone to have more peace of mind in an always on/all ways connected transactional world is for better information to be available about real and potential dangers. It is why the announcement from data intelligence platform provider Santa Monica, California-based Pixalate of its April 2015 Global Seller Trust Index (GSTI) should command marketer attention. The company which tracks online programmatic advertising in its latest monthly report has for the first time added Malware Risk Exposure and Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) Verticals.

Buyers and Sellers beware

Why is this so significant?”

Because it enables media buyers to objectively measure inventory quality and security risk of sellers. In fact, a real grabber of the new analysis is the revelation that more than 70 percent of sellers are exposed to malware-driven ad fraud and one in 20 Internet users were infected. And, this is more than just anecdotal data given that the monthly Pixalate GSTI is based on an analysis of 100 billion ad impressions, 350 million IP addresses and more than 400 programmatic sellers.

A download of the April GTSI is worth spending some time with.  The chart below is an example of the food for marketers’ thought.  It shows insights from the GTSI along with the Malware Risk Exposure addition which is based on a proprietary algorithm that evaluates sellers on three dimensions:

  • Ads served on infected user machines
  • Ads served on domains depositing malware
  • Security rating of a comprehensive list of ad server domains owned and operated by sellers
Source: Pixalate

The scores themselves are based on a scale of 0-99 with a high score being reflective of trustworthiness.  The category definitions are:

  • Network score is based on the quality of domains sold by sellers on open exchanges.
  • Inventory score is determined by the amount of legitimate inventory sources, masking and price.
  • Fraud score is the measure of fake/forged impressions hidden from users or generated by botnets (human traffic vs. bot traffic).
  • Viewability score is the measure of impressions classified as viewable per the Media Rating Council (MRC) defined standard.
  • Engagement score is evaluated based on user interaction (i.e. time spent on page mouse hover time and clicks).
  • Masking score is based on the amount of programmatic inventory misrepresented as a different domain.
  • Malware score is based on the number of seller impressions that deposit malware or are generated by malware-infected PCs. This measure is based on: 1) ads served on infected user machines; 2) ads served on domains depositing malware; and 3) security ratings of ad server domains owned and operated by sellers.

“Growth of online advertising coupled with its ability to target specific users and organizations, has made it one of the most effective channels for security attacks,” said Jalal Nasir, CEO of Pixalate. “Trust in advertising cannot be restored without first addressing the cybersecurity risks it poses to enterprises and consumers. This is a complex and growing problem as many buyers, including reputable brands, purchase seemingly legitimate inventory. Unbeknownst to them, some of the inventory has been compromised and ultimately leads to a negative impact on consumer trust and brand integrity.”

This is serious business, as underscored by the almost daily headlines about bad actors’ exploits.  As Pixalate notes, attackers are becoming extremely sophisticated and elusive when it comes to using advertising as a way to monetize their activities. And, as a study by the U.S. government indicates the risk to consumers of being infected through an advertising channel is bigger than ever before. 

There is plenty of granular information in the latest Pixalate GSTI which has been enhanced with the ability to break sellers down by IAB verticals. This allows brands and media buyers to make better optimization decisions at the campaign level.
Pixalate is very careful to explain in its disclaimer that: 

“As set forth more fully on the copyright, ratings and rankings are, and must be construed solely as, statements of opinion and not statements of fact or recommendations to purchase, sell or hold media inventory. Each rating or other opinion must be weighed solely as one factor in any transactional decision made by or on behalf of any user of the information, and each such user must accordingly make its own study and evaluation of each media vendor and of each issuer and guarantor of, and each provider of inventory for, each media that it may consider purchasing or selling.”

While the disclaimer is certainly fair legal warning about the use of the data, realities are that, as a window into a critical part of what could be considered the transactional infrastructure of e-commerce, if nothing else just having the comparison, and now the malware and fraud scores, is illuminating.  Clearly the lesson here for marketers is that you need to look at the components of the Pixalate GSTI and think about the information in the context of how your company operates and if you could achieve a score in the high 90s.  

That said, security and risk are only part of a marketer's "required reading." There are countless other trends and actions impacting the market, the business, and specific customers, all of which provide valuable information that should become part of a marketer's strategic arsenal. The place where all of these trends and nuggets of marketing information and best practices are stored is The Mad Marketer community. Any good marketer understands that brand stewardship and optimization of marketing spend has never been more important or challenging. The good news is that innovation to meet the challenges of enhancing the targeting,  experiences and outcomes of buyer/seller relationships abound. And as they unfold, The Mad Marketer is your source for all the buzz. 

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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