Showing posts with label International Business Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International Business Times. Show all posts

Monday, November 2, 2015

International Business Times is getting ad traffic from The Pirate Bay, Exoclick, directRev, WWWPromoter & Adbrau and others involved [UPDATED]

Recently I was reviewing several of The Pirate Bay's (TPB) new mirror sites that have popped up over the last year since the most recent rounds of raids against the famous website's administrators. These mirrors have been the source of no small controversy - there have been rumors of law enforcement entrapment, that a project once founded in the spirit of breaking down walls to the free transfer of information has been hijacked for nefarious ends.

Among these rumors, complaints centered on the advertising schemes used by many of the new Pirate Bay mirrors stand out as being substantial. Even Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde pointed to advertising as one of the critical signs that the site was taking a turn for the worst in a blog post late last year :
"TPB has become an institution that people just expected to be there. Noone willing to take the technology further. The site was ugly, full of bugs, old code and old design. It never changed except for one thing – the ads. More and more ads was filling the site, and somehow when it felt unimaginable to make these ads more distasteful they somehow ended up even worse." [emphasis added]
Pirate Bay Co-Founder Peter Sunde
Pirate Bay Co-Founder Peter Sunde
Sunde wasn't the only one to point out the problems with TPB ads. A few months before Sunde's blog post cited above, mainstream business and technology media outlets slammed Pirate Bay for malvertising after MalwareBytes published a blog post on the topic. Yahoo! News ran a story, so did SC Magazine, and so did the International Business Times. Actually, the International Business Times ran more than one story on the topic.

So you could imagine my amazement when I was redirected from a user profile page on Pirate Bay mirror site pirateproxy.tf (80.92.65.144 of DCLUX) to a series of International Business Times articles: one called "Paris: Fashion's afloat as the River Seine hosts scenic catwalk show", another called "Sinai plane crash: Russians mourn victims at memorial", and another some Halloween-themed puff piece. The redirect URLs appeared to reference a specific campaign, such as this one:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/video/wZ8ef6vXaD/?utm_source=626&utm_medium=WPUS&utm_campaign=wpus&fq_score=0&ref=http%253A%252F%252Fpopped.biz%252Fpop-imp%252F626%252F753

The references appear to be to a website called "popped.biz", and all have a similar URL structure:

http://popped.biz/pop-imp/626/5889
http://popped.biz/pop-imp/626/753
http://popped.biz/pop-imp/626/9457

These URLs when accessed directly in turn launch a separate domain, "searchscroll.com", with its own campaign syntax. The domains referenced in the campaign syntax appear to be drawn from a list. Here is an example:

http://searchscroll.com/r1?ei=1KtIaB&dt=333a8f8f&uri=vanillaplantation.com%2frc%3fdt%3db11203fd%26uri%3dgolfbookreviews.com%252frd%253furi%253dvanillaplantation.com%25252F%25253Fhl%25253Den%26pub%3dtrue%26td%3dal5BX3EXnpi4LL37xVkkQSlND0S972Q74Nhg3KDIlBnjoQTaMECIQNwCFf9NPfHkMNyU87j*SRlqwuynHHGn2LPer0vX*5s.SrcxyaOZVPQepqkl03ZfmyuXrtKk62oSHz8ckuzbNYfW77jG*NBetPOLAimldKfgKTmEnn7V3NGr8uK0RLD1saAJD2RQeV7xSs0VztntPG0BjdRzRUgU6RkdkXlniMjDzvYmbS3g.ujC8tOvFuLBkUI8Jhmyg00jS7XeJ7RmY4qbL0DGzzNfdHOw*8OgPqGSRGiWKNyReOjOP6MekoOJklh4lSUnyiDRzWU2i4p.JgNcJA5C6udZEpjryMQksf.3Ecm8Cly6Rpic1w6VXH0u76sDB3BybxK3ZzDcU5SkrxCtXbPyRwnNpvYs*YWI1ENYiG2wa8lwO7mNZ4p8nVx8AkxfIglxQgtAkh0Ue3QEPd9sDOAe3zw5VImUlCyJQYsb3u4XYCKziBX2.khQpSaXRp0iDzMlMHICbszFz2lNYY9x5ju0FzHvgw--%26fss%3da344d28c-81f3-48ac-8796-48da53994eec

Both searchscroll.com and popped.biz are hosted with datacenters that do not subdelegate IP-WHOIS, and all use WHOIS privacy for their domain name registration.

All of this redirection was a bit startling, because I had not clicked on any links - I hadn't clicked on anything. Even more strange, I am one of the few nut-jobs that browse the web with Flash & similar Kick Me signs disabled. I was accustomed to TPB mirrors using flash to hijack clicks - thepiratebay.cr is one such example that just began the practice over the last week or so. But this was different.

Just as startling was the irony of finding IB Times among the advertisers using this sort of bottom-barrel internet traffic, after having so thoroughly criticized the very site that was now apparently buttering their bread. Something something stones something something glass houses. The International Business Times is owned by IBT Media, which also owns Newsweek.

Anyway, pirateproxy.tf's dns-prefetch references provide a clue as to which advertising referral networks are paying the bills:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/static/css/pirate6.css">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://adbrau.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://cdn.adbrau.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://cdn3.adbrau.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://syndication.exoclick.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://main.exoclick.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://static-ssl.exoclick.com/">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="http://ads.exoclick.com/">

As do a pair of scripts prepended to the bottom of each of the TPB mirror's pages; the variables referenced here are consistent with those used by affiliate networks directRev and WWWPromoter (I have copies of the scripts should anyone need them I am in the process of making them somewhat human-readable). Note the use of a siteID for the _gungo variable, typically used by directRev ads. Furthermore I discoverd the use of the _wwwp variable below on a multitude of illicit file sharing sites, such as alluc.ee/alluc.com, solarmovie.ae/solarmovie.in, scoop.it and mangafreeonline.com to name just a few:

<script>var _wwwp = {settings: {tag_id: 626, popunder: {type: 'popunder', times: 2, period: 0.5}}};</script>
<script src="/prototype-js.js?v=0f02eaa6e4e67b4f9becdfe834041c9b"></script>
<script>var _gunggo={settings:{siteID:"S0008065",pop:{type:"tab"}}};</script>
<script src="https://storage.googleapis.com/prototype-lib/bin.js?s=S0008065"></script>

Regular readers of my website may recognize some of these names: Exoclick was among the apparent paymasters for a group of hackers who defaced the website of the Florida Local Government Investment Trust to clickjack traffic to websites owned by the Alibaba Group.

If anyone involved with writing checks for the marketing department of International Business Times is reading this: you should be very concerned that your company is being advertised using this type of methodology. The IB Times click-jacking referrals are being served next to "ads" that force users to a site "iphone6deals.xyz" that coerces users to download malware. This is not the way to gain the trust of the public.

Hijacking internet traffic is not marketing; it is a means of defrauding corporations out of their marketing budgets by leading them to believe that interested users are being driven to their website. Click-jacking is to advertising what mugging is to banking. Despite what you read in the papers, the largest sums of money driving malicious software and traffic are companies like IB Times that are (assuming the most charitable scenario) duped into handing over cash to criminals for quick click without have a competent team available to assess whether those clicks are legitimate.

There are many organizations out there that do not want to invest the energy, time or resources needed to audit their marketing spending. So long as there are those who don't mind doing business with hackers to get a short-term boost in web traffic, the internet will remain an unsafe place for users and businesses alike.

UPDATE: I tweeted these findings to the IBTimes Twitter accounts. Fingers crossed that they do the right thing & remove themselves:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/IBTimes">@IBTimes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/IBTimesUK">@IBTimesUK</a> FYI users of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/piratebay?src=hash">#piratebay</a> mirror pirateproxy.tf are being <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/clickjacked?src=hash">#clickjacked</a> to your site: <a href="https://t.co/R5liLBVzzS">https://t.co/R5liLBVzzS</a></p>&mdash; Josh Wieder (@JoshWieder) <a href="https://twitter.com/JoshWieder/status/661222326097321984">November 2, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

UPDATE 11/3/2015 2 PM: I identified two more affiliates at play within pirateproxy.tf code - what appears to be directRev and WWWPromoter - and added information to the post about them.

UPDATE 11/3/2015 3:11 PM: I was contacted by Sharon Ezzeldin, the Corporate Communications Director of IBT Media, who requested that I reprint a statement produced by IBT Media. While I do not have the same sort of circulation as the International Business Times or Newsweek here on my website, I am happy to do so. If I did not make it clear in my initial post I will do so here: I have no evidence that IB Times is deliberately marketing on The Pirate Bay, and in fact I would be shocked if they were. My research suggests that IB Times has been taken advantage of; most likely by one of the affiliate marketing companies I have mentioned in my post or someone they sell traffic to. I have no reason to doubt Ms Ezzeldin's claim below that IBT Media is not aware of any relationship between themselves & Exoclick, Adbrau or the TPB mirror. What almost certainly occurred here is that IBT Media hired a marketing firm that does business through an affiliate network; likewise The Pirate Bay mirror site pirateproxy.tf is a publisher for multiple affiliate networks.

Here is IBT Media's statement:

_________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Josh,
I was made aware of your recent post online and I would like to clarify IBT Media’s position on piracy. I ask that you immediately add our official statement to your post and on the blog. I am getting in touch with you in writing as IBT Media’s spokesperson and trust that you understand the importance of us not being seen as being aware of illicit arbitraging.  
We take the issue of piracy very  seriously and look seeing this statement on your website asap.
Kind regards,
------
IBT Media Official Statement
IBT Media works with various marketing partners therefore we operate in good faith and we are confident our trusted partners are doing the same.  IBT Media has no working relationship with Exoclick, Ad Brau or Pirate Bay sites.
IBT Media’s legal team is using all legal routes to ensure that such sites cease to drive traffic to the International Business Times websites
Our websites remain a valuable selling point for partners – who have valid agreements with IBT Media. We will make sure that our valuable properties are only available to legitimate partners. We take the issue of piracy seriously and we will work tirelessly to prevent any breach. 
We are keen to actively work closer with industry bodies and partners to help counteract piracy.
END
Sharon Ezzeldin / Corporate Communications Director
_________________________________________________________________________________

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