AVG disguises fake traffic as IE6

Where's the ham and cheese?


Exclusive AVG has rejiggered the fake traffic it's spewing across the internet, causing new headaches for the world's webmasters.

In late February, AVG paired its updated anti-virus engine with a real-time malware scanner that vets search engine results before you click on them. If you search Google, for instance, this LinkScanner automatically visits each address that turns up on Google's results page.

According to the company, more than 20 million people have downloaded the new AVG 8, and this has caused a huge up-tick in traffic on sites across the web, including The Register. Because the scanner attempts to disguise itself as a real live human click, webmasters who rely on log files for their traffic numbers may be unaware their stats are skewed. And others complain that LinkScanner has added extra dollars to their bandwidth bill.

Daniel Brandt, who runs Wikipedia Watch, estimates that LinkScanner traffic to the site has outstripped legitimate clicks by nearly ten times. In this graph, the pink line represents suspected LinkScanner scans, the blue line legitimate clicks:

LinkScanner meets Wikipedia Watch

LinkScanner meets Wikipedia Watch

When we first told the tale of AVG's fake traffic earlier this month, we pointed out that if webmasters were wise to the problem, they could filter LinkScanner visits from their log files. Each scan left a unique user agent: "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1;1813)."

But over the weekend, the company changed this user agent on the for-pay version of AVG 8. It appears that scans now use these agents as well:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)

User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)

User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1;1813)

Judging from the log files of two separate web sites, including Wikipedia Watch, the first agent is by far the most common. Which is bad news for webmasters. That's also the Internet Explorer 6 user agent. Unlike the other two - and the original "1813" agent - it's a perfectly valid agent that may turn up with real clicks.

AVG's chief of research Roger Thompson says the for-pay LinkScanner is only using the IE6 user agent. Presumably, the company believes this is more likely to fool malware exploits. "There are still ways for concerned web masters to filter LinkScanner requests out of their statistics," he told us over email. But he did not divulge these methods and did not say whether they might clip legitimate traffic as well.

Many webmasters may have no choice but to abandon log file analysis, adopting alternative tools from companies like Google, Yahoo!, comScore, or Nielsen NetRatings. And these tools have their drawbacks. comScore's service tends to underestimate traffic from daytime work machines. And if you go with Google Analytics, you have to tag your pages with JavaScript - and share your traffic numbers with Google.

Plus, these tools won't solve the bandwidth issue.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Software Freedom Conservancy sues TV maker Vizio for GPL infringement

    Companies using GPL software should meet their obligations, lawsuit says

    The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), a non-profit which supports and defends free software, has taken legal action against Californian TV manufacturer Vizio Inc, claiming "repeated failures to fulfill even the basic requirements of the General Public License (GPL)."

    Member projects of the SFC include the Debian Copyright Aggregation Project, BusyBox, Git, GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers, Homebrew, Mercurial, OpenWrt, phpMyAdmin, QEMU, Samba, Selenium, Wine, and many more.

    The GPL Compliance Project is described as "comprised of copyright holders in the kernel, Linux, who have contributed to Linux under its license, the GPLv2. These copyright holders have formally asked Conservancy to engage in compliance efforts for their copyrights in the Linux kernel."

    Continue reading
  • DRAM, it stacks up: SK hynix rolls out 819GB/s HBM3 tech

    Kit using the chips to appear next year at the earliest

    Korean DRAM fabber SK hynix has developed an HBM3 DRAM chip operating at 819GB/sec.

    HBM3 (High Bandwidth Memory 3) is a third generation of the HBM architecture which stacks DRAM chips one above another, connects them by vertical current-carrying holes called Through Silicon Vias (TSVs) to a base interposer board, via connecting micro-bumps, upon which is fastened a processor that accesses the data in the DRAM chip faster than it would through the traditional CPU socket interface.

    Seon-yong Cha, SK hynix's senior vice president for DRAM development, said: "Since its launch of the world's first HBM DRAM, SK hynix has succeeded in developing the industry's first HBM3 after leading the HBM2E market. We will continue our efforts to solidify our leadership in the premium memory market."

    Continue reading
  • UK's ARIA innovation body 'hasn't even begun to happen' says former research lead

    DARPA imitator not doing much after two years of Johnson government

    Updated The UK's efforts to copy US government and military innovation outfit DARPA are stalling, according to a leading figure in research and development.

    Appearing before the Science and Technology Committee, Sir John Kingman, former chair of UK Research and Innovation, told MPs this morning that ARIA – the Advanced Research and Invention Agency – was a good example of departmental research spending that could be cut, sidelined or delayed.

    "A very high-profile example would be ARIA, which has been this big plan for the Boris Johnson government, and yet here we are a few years into the Johnson government and it still hasn't even begun to happen," he told MPs.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021