Click Fraud Definition

KZero Staff
Jul 27, 2023

What is Click Fraud?

Click fraud refers to the malicious or deceptive practice – usually accomplished by bots – of generating fake clicks on online advertisements to defraud publishers or gain unfair advantages. As noted, it almost always involves automated scripts or bots, but sometimes human operators repeatedly click on ads without any genuine interest or intent to interact with the advertised content.

How Does Click Fraud Work?

The goal of advertising is to sell products or services. If an advertiser can serve their ad to the right person, then that person might click on the ad, browse their page, and purchase the product. Advertisers put significant effort and resources into maximizing the probability that a particular ad will be served to someone with whom it is likely to resonate.

Advertisements are only successful if they change a user’s behavior. While building name recognition is helpful, the most immediate and measurable return on investment for advertising is if the user actually clicks on an ad and visits a merchant’s page. For this reason, advertising’s revenue model is centered around the number of ad views and clicks.

Click fraud takes advantage of this by having automated bots or disinterested users click on ads that they have no interest in. Bots are programs that can be configured to interact with a web page just like a human user, making them ideal for click fraud. If a bot can convince the site that it is a human – concealing the fraudulent activity – then the merchant is paying for advertising that provides them with no benefit or return on investment.

Why Do Attackers Perform Click Fraud?

Click fraud attacks can be performed for various purposes. Some of the most common include:

  • Budget Exhaustion: Advertisers’ payments to platforms are based on the number of views and click-throughs. A click fraud attack drives up these numbers while providing the advertiser with no sales or revenue, potentially exhausting their budget.
  • Increasing Costs: For the same reason, click fraud also can be used to increase costs for competitors. If an organization needs to pay more to get ads in front of potential customers or block bot traffic, then that hurts its ability to compete in the marketplace.
  • Metric Manipulation: Click fraud can also be used to artificially boost metrics such as website traffic and click-through rates. This could make it appear that a particular site or marketing program is more successful than it actually is, something that could be useful during an acquisition or when reporting to shareholders.
  • Reputational Damage: For an advertising platform or provider, click fraud can cause reputational and financial damage. If the platform can’t prevent this fraudulent activity, advertisers may take their business and marketing dollars elsewhere.
  • Revenue: On the flip side, an attacker operating an advertising platform could use click fraud to create revenue. By artificially boosting ad views and click-through rates, they could force customers to pay more for advertising.


Click fraud is an attack that uses automation to take advantage of how advertising and marketing revenue models work. Anti-bot defenses can help mitigate these risks by blocking fully automated, more efficient click fraud operations from working on a website.

KZero Staff

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