Feeds

AVG fake traffic spares Google AdWords

You may pay. But not for clicks

The essential guide to IT transformation

Yes, AVG's LinkScanner is spewing fake traffic across the internet, messing with the log files and bandwidth budgets of web sites large and small. But there's one thing it doesn't mess with: search engine paid clicks.

Used by roughly 20 million people worldwide - and counting - AVG's new security tool scans search engine results before you click on them. If you type a keyword into Google, for instance, it automatically visits each site that turns up on Google's results page.

That includes sites that appear as "sponsored links" - a clever name for adverts. And in the wake of our recent AVG-annoys-webmasters story, many assumed the scanner was generating not only fake web traffic but also fake ad clicks, forcing advertisers to pay for eyeballs they aren't really getting.

But in scanning sponsored sites, AVG is careful to bypass the Google mechanism that records paid clicks. Rather than use Google's hyperlink, it uses the site's raw URL. "We parse out the target and go straight there, skipping any Google click counter," says Pat Bitton, head of communications at AVG, a Czech company with regional offices in the US and the UK.

And according to Bitton, this has been the case since AVG paired LinkScanner with its anti-virus engine in late February.

Ghost dancer

But sponsored sites - like other sites that frequently turn up on search result pages - are still plagued by the fake traffic problem. When it scans, LinkScanner does its best to disguise itself as an actual user. The average webmaster may have no idea the tool is skewing his traffic numbers, and in the long run, that too can damage a site's bottom line.

At the moment, webmasters can weed out this fake traffic by filtering a specific user agent from their log files: "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1;1813)." AVG insists this will not affect legitimate traffic.

"[With a real user click], the user agent does not show with 1813. It will use the standard browser agent because the browser still handles those requests," says AVG CTO Karel Obluk. "Our traffic to scan and the user traffic from the browser are completely separate."

But during an interview last week, chief of research Roger Thompson - who designed the AVG LinkScanner - indicated he may do away with that unique user agent. His chief concern is security, and he doesn't want webmasters or malware writers gaming his scanner. "In order to detect the really tricky - and by association, the most important - malicious content, we need to look just like a browser driven by a human being," he argues.

That said, AVG has also promised to explore alternative solutions to the problem. A fix could arrive as early as this week.

But there's one problem the company can't solve without bagging LinkScanner entirely. Some webmasters complain that the scanner forces them to pay for extra bandwidth. And this problem will only grow. AVG's anti-virus engine is used by a total of 70 million people worldwide, and 50 million have yet to install version 8 - the version that comes with LinkScanner. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.