Connections between the videos pumped up through phony traffic and Web sites that distribute the malicious software are common. For example, automatic refresh programs were one of many malicious programs being pushed from Youtubevideodownloader.com, a Web page profiling the person who posted the energy drink commercial on YouTube. When YouTube caught on to that ruse, the individual changed his log-in to banned_commercials and linked from the videos to a different URL that distributed the same malicious programs, Edelman said.
"Whoever is responsible for this has created a circle of scams all predicated on the counterfeit traffic they can create at YouTube or some other user-driven content site," Edelman said. "At first it might seem like they are trying to simply get their video to the top of the site for promotional purposes, but it's just as likely that they really just want to trick people into visiting their malware or adware sites."
Representatives for the company whose product is advertised in the commercial, Scotland-based IRN-BRU, didn't return calls seeking comment, and several days after Edelman first highlighted the video clip to InfoWorld, it appears to have been removed from YouTube.
Media representatives with the multimedia site, owned by search giant Google, refused to comment on the energy drink commercial specifically, but indicated that battling such schemes to distort its ratings systems remains an ongoing task.
"We are continually developing safeguards to secure the statistics on YouTube and recently updated video ratings, so it now is very difficult to fake a high rating or force someone else to get a low rating," the company said in a statement.
"When it comes to our attention that someone has rigged their numbers to gain placement on the top pages, we remove the video or channel from public view; we are continuously updating the product to provide accurate view, rating and subscription numbers and to prevent our community from being affected by malicious programs."
YouTube officials did not offer any specific steps the company has taken to help combat malware programs and other ill-gotten traffic.
The Web has long been known as an effective medium for malicious attacks, but the problem of people gaming YouTube and other user content-driven, or Web 2.0, sites is only beginning to rear its head, and it's an issue that the companies backing such portals must take seriously as they look into the future.
As more Internet users begin to turn to "user-generated content" for untarnished reviews and insights, YouTube and other Web 2.0 portals begin offering greater financial incentives for people to post popular content, said Joe Laszlo, an analyst at Jupiter Research in New York.
"This is a nascent issue, but one that YouTube and the rest of the user-generated content sites need to confront now, as so much of the Web 2.0 concept is built around the idea of trusting the community to help make judgments about content's quality," said Laszlo. "These types of scams call into question how reliable the community aspect of Web 2.0 really is, and if these types of sites becomes susceptible to a lot of tricks, and content that people don't really want to see gets surfaced, people will question their value."