Advertising Fraud Tutorial Series: All About Device Emulators

By John Koetsier January 5, 2016

Advertising fraud is on many marketers’ minds these days. In a 2016 survey conducted by our team and VC firm Thomvest Ventures, 78% of enterprise app marketers reported that they were concerned about the costs of ad fraud.

At Singular, we consider it our duty to help those marketers by both providing outstanding anti-fraud services and by offering succinct and actionable education on ad fraud. As the leaders in the mobile app marketing analytics industry, Singular has spent tremendous time and resources analyzing:

  • Ad Fraud on mobile devices
  • Risk points for apps and app marketing
  • Key ways that marketers can work to mitigate the risks

All of this research has shown that the more clients understand about the risks and costs of fraud, the better prepared they are to act.

This post is all about device emulators and how fraudsters use simulated devices to perpetrate multiple forms of ad fraud.

What are Device Emulators?

Mobile devices send distinct signals. Attribution and analytics platforms collect and interpret those signals to record user actions and traffic to determine the provenance of installs and re-engagements.

Download the Singular Fraud Index

Singular has just released its 2017 Singular Fraud Index, which reveals the mobile industry’s Most Secure Ad Networks. The Index is the first study of its kind to examine ad fraud data collected from multiple ad fraud prevention solutions, each with its own set of proprietary detection methods. Drawing on this unique dataset, the study exposes the effectiveness of today’s most common anti-fraud mechanisms as well as the 25 ad networks driving the lowest rates of digital advertising fraud.

Get your free copy here.

Fraudsters try to fake clicks and other marketing-related actions by creating simulated devices that send signals they hope will be interpreted as if they come from bona fide mobile devices. A simulated device associates actions with faked device advertising IDs.

Device emulators can fake ad clicks as well as first launches that are intended to be interpreted as legitimate installs. Without robust ad fraud protection, a brand will erroneously believe that a legitimate install has occurred, and may pay the fraudster for that install (with CPI-based media) or credit that install to the fraudster (with CPC or CPM media buys). In either case, the fraudster stands to garner undeserved budget from the app marketing team.

Naturally, device emulation isn’t perpetrated on a onesy twosy basis. Rather, a bad actor will array large numbers of device emulators in an attempt to secure large amounts of marketer spend.

Detecting and Preventing Emulated Device Ad Fraud

The greed of fraudsters often acts as an avenue into ad fraud detection. For example:

Device emulators might send a set of click/install/launch signals associated with a large numbers of faked IDs, then send an uninstall signal and repeat the install reporting. Too many installs rapid fire from a set of IDs is a great indicator of ad fraud.

Device emulators might send signals that they have installed an app with a fake ID, then send another set of ad click/install/launch signals with a different faked ID. Too many installs from heretofore unknown device IDs is a strong indicator that emulated devices are being used in an attempt to defraud the brand.

One faked install on an emulated device would be very difficult to detect. But fraudsters perpetrate their crimes in volume to steal large amounts of revenue. That makes the patterns much easier to spot.

There are many other ways that we at SIngular identify likely device emulators, many of which rely on pattern recognition using similar principles as above.

The Singular Approach to Mitigating the Costs and Risks of Ad Fraud

Singular offers an industry-leading fraud solutions that you can learn more about right here. For a capsule summary of some of the steps we take to detect and prevent ad fraud for our clients, read on.

Singular believes that the best way to help clients address the ad fraud challenge is with a combination of ad fraud detection and prevention. By layering detection and prevention, brands can enjoy maximum protection with minimum time resources dedicated to the challenge.

We take a different approach than do some others in the space which focus primarily on detection. Many companies focus primarily on detection because it is easier, and puts the primary onus of protecting a business on the client. After all, it is often easier to detect fraud after it occurs than prevent it from occurring in the first place. By contrast, we focus the majority of our time and resources on prevention to simplify and streamline your anti-fraud resource investments and mitigate the need for restitution in many cases.


Singular’s New Anti-Fraud Improvements
Learn about Singular’s new Enhanced Fraud Protections. See how working with Singular can help protect and defend your business.

Singular monitors all of the campaign and spend data into our app analytics platform, looking for signs of fraudulent activity such as illegitimate networks, fraudulent clicks, suspicious IP addresses, faked devices, mismatches in targeting, and more. We also see all sides of a user relationship — ad metrics, spend, and post-install engagement/purchases. That helps give us and our clients a broad view into all of the key KPIs marketers use to analyze their businesses.

Further, the scale of our client footprint means that you benefit from the signals we collect and interpret across many large app businesses.. Singular’s client base of many of the largest players in gaming, retail, travel, on demand services and other verticals gives us a massive data footprint to examine so that we can stay ahead of the curve and provide unprecedented levels of protections for our valued clients.

With this extraordinary visibility into a large portion of the mobile app industry, Singular can detect and create prevention regimens with extraordinary speed and thoroughness as fraud approaches emerge and evolve.

To learn more about our comprehensive approach to fraud prevention, click here.

Download The Singular Fraud Index to see The Industry’s Most Active Fraud Prevention Methods & The 20 Most Secure Mobile Ad Networks

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