U.S. Army, Target, others advertising on pirate sites

More than 50 government and corporate advertisers have been spotted advertising on pirate websites, according to a reportÃ'Â released Thursday by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

Among the organizations identified by the lab, which started issuing the monthly advertising transparency reports in January, are the U.S. Army, National Guard, Microsoft Bing and Windows 8, Allstate, American Express, AT&T, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Neiman Marcus and Walmart.

Because of the knotty nature of the Internet advertising placement, it's very likely that the organizations don't even know their ads are appearing on sites that cater to content violating the federal Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

[See also: Privacy, Piracy and Parental Controls: Where In the World Are We Going in 2012 And Beyond?]

"Due to the convoluted natures of the advertising marketplace and the on-demand bidding process, brands which do not support illicit file-sharing can come to have adverts placed on non-DMCA compliant websites, providing an in-direct form of subsidy," the report said.

Since the United States has made strong efforts to fight online piracy of intellectual property, the appearance of U.S. military ads on content-thieving sites could be embarrassing.

The ads are delivered to the ad networks by the Ad Council. While they cost money to produce, their placement is free, as a public service.

"I think it's mostly the fault of the Ad Council," Jonathan Taplin, a professor at the Annenberg School and team leader of the transparency project, said in an interview. "I don't think there's someone at the Pentagon saying, 'Let's put our ads up on pirate sites,' although there are a lot of young males in the 21 to 25 age range that are using these sites.

"I think it's inadvertent because the Ad Council isn't paying any attention," he added. "We've seen the Ad Council place ads for the U.S. Forest Service on these sites as well."

The Ad Council declined to comment on the Annenberg report, but noted in an email, "The Ad Council does not spend Federal government or [Non-Government Organization's] funds on non-DMCA compliant websites.

"When the Ad Council distributes our campaign [Public Service Announcements] to advertising networks and advertising exchanges, we expressly request that the network/exchange restricts placement of our ads on illegal sites (including illicit file-sharing sites) and sites within certain categories including gambling, pornography, et al," it continued.

"When Ad Council PSAs are discovered on non-DMCA compliant websites, the Ad Council requests that the advertising networks remove our ads immediately," it added.

Taplin explained that one of the reasons for launching the advertising transparency project was to open up the Byzantine Net ad market. "We're trying to bring some transparency to a business that's very untransparent," he said.

"The online ad business is what we would call a 'dark market,'" he continued. "You don't really know who's buying what, where the ads are coming from, where they're going, how they're accounted for, whether people are spoofing them or pretending to click on ads so your site will get more money.

"There's a lot of fraud in the business," he added.

The top 10 advertising networks on illicit sites identified in the report were Propellerads, Exoclick, Infolinks, Adcash, Admxr, Adsrevenue, Yahoo/Right Media, Adserver, Trix.net and Sumotorrent.

"Given that many advertising networks have a ban on illicit file-sharing written into their terms of use, this report should serve as a mechanism to highlight possible violations among clients," the report said.

Read more about security awareness in CSOonline's Security Awareness section.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. ArmydmcaSecurity Leadership | Security AwarenessbingUniversity of Southern CaliforniaHondaSecurity Leadershipamerican expresspirate websiteMicrosoftintellectual propertyat&tsecuritylegalWalMartDMC

More about AllstateAmerican Express AustraliaHonda AustraliaMicrosoftYahoo

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John P. Mello Jr.

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place