Pareto Botnet, million infected Android devices conduct fraud in the CTV ad ecosystem

Pierluigi Paganini April 22, 2021

Researchers from Human Security have uncovered a huge botnet of Android devices being used to conduct fraud in the connected TV advertising ecosystem.

Security researchers at Human Security (formerly White Ops) discovered a massive Android botnet, dubbed Pareto, used to conduct fraud in the Connected TV (CTV) advertising ecosystem.

The Pareto botnet is composed of nearly a million infected mobile Android devices, it was used to emulate the activity of millions of people watching ads on smart TVs and other devices.

PARETO is nearly a million infected mobile Android devices pretending to be millions of people watching ads on smart TVs and other devices. The botnet used dozens of mobile apps to impersonate or spoof more than 6,000 CTV apps, accounting for an average of 650 million ad requests every day.” reads the analysis published by the experts.

Pareto botnet

The botnet was first spotted in 2020, it is able to generate an average of 650 million ad requests every day.

Since its discovery, the security firm has been working to mitigate the threat and disrupt the ad-fraud operation with the support of Google, Roku and others.

PARETO works by spoofing signals using malicious Android mobile apps to impersonate consumer TV streaming products running Fire OS, tvOS, Roku OS, and other prominent CTV platforms. The fraudulent activity was very profitable, especially during the ongoing pandemic, experts pointed out that the price for ads on connected TVs is often higher than pricing on mobile devices or on the web. 

The PARETO campaign has been very sophisticated and evasive during 2020. Experts noticed that threat actors behind the botnet used a new disguise for their fake traffic for each spoofing cycle.

“HUMAN was able to detect and continuously innovate techniques to protect our customers with HUMAN’s Advertising Integrity solution.” ” continues the report. Finally, after a year of this continuous and effective threat identification and resolution, and driven by a sequence of counter measures and PARETO adaptations, HUMAN and its partners—including Omnicom Media Group, The Trade Desk, Magnite, Google, and Roku—disrupted the operation.”

Human Security experts also uncovered a separate, but-connected, operation targeting the Roku platform with tens of rogue apps on the Roku’s Channel Store.

“The primary operation was associated with 29 Android apps and the secondary operation was associated with one Roku developer delivering the malware to infected devices. These apps have all been removed from the marketplaces on which they were operating, and lists of the apps are available as appendices to HUMAN’s technical analysis of the botnet. Roku has also permanently disconnected the impacted apps from use. ” continues the press release.

The report includes details the list of the malicious apps and info about the C2 infrastructure.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, connected TV)

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