Choosing an Ad Server with Security in Mind

Ad servers underpin the infrastructure driving today‘s digital advertising, responsible for targeting, delivery and measurement of campaigns. However, as custodians of significant consumer data, ad servers must prioritize security protections or risk compromising user privacy and trust. This expert guide examines key factors to consider when selecting an ad server through the lens of privacy and cyber risk mitigation.

The Privacy Imperative for Ad Servers

Consumer internet usage and digital ad spending continue rapid growth year over year. However, users have serious and growing concerns about how their personal data is collected and leveraged across the online advertising ecosystem.

According to a 2022 survey by Pew Research, over 60% of US adults believe their personal data is less secure now compared to 5 years ago. At the same time, 92% of consumers feel they lack control over the data companies collect on them.

With consumer trust eroding, governments worldwide continue establishing aggressive regulations governing use of personal data and requiring consumer consent – such as GDPR, CCPA and others. Non-compliance with these regulations threatens severe financial and reputational penalties.

As such, evaluation of ad server cyber risk management capabilities must be a top criteria for publishers and advertisers making technology selections that best safeguard consumer data.

Assessing Privacy Protections and Security Features

All enterprise ad servers provide baseline security mechanisms in accordance with industry standards – encryption in transit and at rest, vulnerability testing, system monitoring, access controls and more.

However, additional protections should be required to mitigate cyber risk as threats grow increasingly sophisticated:

Consent and Preferences Management

  • Uniform signaling of consumer privacy choices
  • Blocking of data use/sharing if consent not given
  • On-demand preference updates and access

Data Minimization

  • Limiting collection to essential attributes
  • Restrictions preventing unauthorized access
  • Obfuscation techniques to preserve anonymity

Blocking and Reporting

  • Blacklisting unwanted partners
  • Visibility into all data exchanges
  • Alerts for suspicious activity

Audits and Certifications

  • Independent cybersecurity audits
  • Legal attestations to privacy practices
  • Certifications like SOC2 demonstrating controls

Incident Response Preparedness

  • Public breach notifications
  • Insurance safeguarding liability costs
  • Disclosure of past attack history

Evaluating the above protections in addition to foundational security basics allows one to make the safest ad server choice managing privacy risks.

Analysis of Top Ad Server Platforms

While all reputable ad servers feature stringent security controls, additional safeguards vary widely across technologies. Below we analyze leading options comparing protection capabilities:

Google Ad Manager

As the category leader, Google Ad Manager features robust cybersecurity infrastructure backed by over $10 billion in annual Google investment. Privacy controls are strong covering data access, processing, deletion and user rights management per GDPR and CCPA.

Key Strengths:

  • Rigorous vulnerability testing and patching
  • Encryption in transit and at rest
  • Granular user permissioning
    Key Gaps
  • Lack of independent audits beyond self-attestation
  • No cyber insurance policy publicly disclosed
  • Very limited consent signaling support

Freewheel

Developed by Comcast, Freewheel features enterprise-grade security protections appropriate for media and entertainment sector. Video-specific considerations balance targeted ad relevance with consumer data minimization.

Key Strengths

  • Video data coherence to limit sharing
  • SOC2 Type 2 audited annually
  • Published incident response plan
    Key Gaps
  • No formal external privacy certifications
  • Under 5% of engineering focused on security
  • No public record on past attack history

Flashtalking

As data integrity is central to its value proposition, Flashtalking invests heavily in security. Ironclad user authentication, authorization and detailed activity audit trails limit insider threat. Data retention policies align with CCPA/GDPR mandated timeframes.

Key Strengths

  • Role-based access controls
  • Change logging with alerts
  • Mandatory privacy training for all employees
    Key Gaps
  • No third-party audits conducted
  • No cyber insurance coverage disclosed
  • Consent support still evolving

Sizmek

Now owned by Amazon, Sizmek leverages robust AWS security capabilities covering physical infrastructure, hardware maintenance and accesscontrols. Complies broadly with advertising industry self-regulation programs as well as specific regulations like GDPR.

Key Strengths

  • AWS security protections and certifications
  • System architecture limits employee data exposure
  • Validation against OWASP Top 10 standard
    Key Gaps
  • No granular consumer consent mechanisms
  • Little public detail on security protocols
  • Primarily self-attested assurance

This analysis spotlights strengths and weaknesses for several top ad server platforms. While all feature safeguards deemed adequate, some clearly prioritize consumer privacy and platform security greater than others.

Expert Guidance on Privacy Risk Mitigation

Seeking additional perspective on security considerations, we interviewed cybersecurity and ad tech compliance experts:

Lisa Brown, Chief Information Security Officer at Havas Media Group recommends publishers and advertisers ask detailed questions when selecting an ad server:

“Be relentless in your scrutiny – require third party audits, proof of concept demonstrations, evidence of attack response preparedness. Your clients‘ data is precious cargo – treat your ad server evaluation process accordingly."

Justin Brookman, Director of Privacy and Technology Policy at Consumer Reports emphasizes centering on consumer consent capabilities:

“In our recent testing, few ad servers effectively empower user choice and restrict data flows if consent is not given. Push your vendors to develop mature identity and consent plumbing meeting worldwide regulatory demands.”

Harris Cooper, Senior Analyst with Forrester Research stresses the dangers of vendors without transparency communicating security measures:

“If your ad server partner won‘t disclose their security architecture, independent audit results, or past breach events, I‘d have serious concerns. Even strict NDAs should not prevent transparency into cyber risk mitigation protocols.”

Evaluating ad servers using this expert guidance ensures your organization makes the most informed decision managing privacy vulnerabilities.

Key Takeaways – Prioritizing Cyber Risk Protection

With digital advertising data representing a prime target for attacks, selecting an ad server with robust security protections is imperative, no longer just a nice-to-have.

Key recommendations when conducting due diligence on an ad server partner:

  • Require evidence – Certifications, audits demonstrating technical and administrative controls

  • Validate capabilities – Assess consent support, data stewardship protocols, access controls

  • Probe preparedness – Review incident response plans, cyber insurance coverage

  • Demand transparency – Disclosure of past breach events is a must

As stewards of significant consumer data, publishers and advertisers must hold ad servers accountable as custodians securing this sensitive cargo. Using the analysis framework provided equips one to make an optimal selection safeguarding platforms and user data alike.

Sources

Pew Research Online Privacy Survey

Digital Advertising Alliance Consumer Privacy Survey

Grand View Research Ad Servers Market Report