Malvertising, or malicious advertising, is a serious concern for individuals and companies alike. Cybersecurity breaches by malvertising attacks have caused widespread malware infiltration into many valid websites. Mal advertising is rather difficult to combat as it is a fairly contemporary method, plus it takes advantage of users’ trust in seemingly safe websites. In this article, we will explore the basics of malicious advertising to help users understand how to prevent it.

  1. What is Malvertising? 
  2. How do malware ads work?
  3. Examples of Malvertising
  4. How to prevent malvertising attacks?

1. What is Malvertising? 

The simplest malvertising definition is; it is a cyber-tactic malicious in nature that is used to dispense malware through advertisements on trusted websites. These malware codes make your computer vulnerable to adware, ransomware, spyware, and virus infiltration. Usually, cybercriminals buy ad spaces on popular, safe, and trusted websites which get huge traffic. These malware ads look authentic but once clicked upon they re-direct the user to a malicious website or install the malware in the user’s device.  

2. How do malware ads work?

There are several ways in which mal advertising works. The most common method of distributing malware ads is the same as the distribution methods of normal online advertisements. The mal advertisements are pitched to online advertising networks in the hopes that they will pass through multiple layers of detection by advertisers’ ad technology systems. It is very easy to confuse a seemingly innocent malware advertisement for a genuine advertisement. Once, the advertising network approves the malicious ad, they authorize circulation across various popular websites.

In some cases, cybercriminals might re-register previously active and legitimate domains which are currently expired. This puts on a perfect façade of a trustworthy domain. In rare cases, criminals might by-pass the whole mal ad distribution process and directly hack large websites. Via the post-click method, once users click on an infected advertisement or even visit an infected website they fall victim to malware attacks. Another advanced method of infiltration is drive-by downloads.

This is very dangerous type of pre-click method of mal ad transmission, through this an infected advertisement will harm your device the moment it has finished loading. Users not even click on drive-by downloads, they start downloading malware when you land on the infected website. Another popular method is redirection; on clicking a seemingly legitimate advertisement, users will be directed to a spoof site where their device will get exposed to malware.

Advertise malware harms your device by installing various kinds of malware that hide in your device undetected and steal confidential data such as passwords, personal information, bank details, financial details, etc. Once hackers have access to your information they might misuse credit cards, access your bank accounts, or even exploit your contacts by misleading them. 

3. Examples of Malvertising

The malicious advertising industry is getting more advanced with each passing day. One of the most common examples of malvertising examples is gift card scams. Users think they received a gift card from a genuine shopping site and immediately fill in personal details to avail of the gift. In this case, the users give away their sensitive information voluntarily under false promises. After collecting all of this data the cybercriminals sell this to third parties who hijack systems. 

Another example of a popular malvertising campaign was RoughTed, this caused a lot of havoc because it could by-pass ad blockers and anti-virus protections. RoughTed was difficult to track because it could propagate itself by creating new URLs.

A few years ago, Spotify’s music streaming service fell victim to a malicious advertisement infiltration on their windows desktop apps. The advertisements installed fake Windows Recovery anti-virus tool, the ads started downloading malware automatically without requiring any clicking. 

KS Clean is an advanced mal ad within a mobile app, the malware is installed the moment users click on the ad. The users will not get to know that the malware is downloading in the background. Mid-way through the process the phone will notify about a security issue requesting users to upgrade the app, once they do that the malware will complete the downloading process and take over the functioning of the device. 

Some types of websites that have a high possibility of possessing malware are; free games, free quiz sites, gambling sites, torrent sites, sites offering discounts and deals etc.

      How can you identify a malvertisement?

      Here are a few features to check for in order to avoid clicking mal ads:

  • Spelling errors in ads.
  • Ads which do not match the users’ recent browsing history.
  • Ads which look like they were designed by unprofessionals.
  • Ads which promise a range of miraculous discounts, and cures.

4. How to prevent malvertising attacks?

Our lives are heavily dependent on the internet. Our dependence makes us vulnerable to malicious advertisement attacks, thus it is necessary to keep yourself updated with the latest malvertising practices in order to protect your personal information. Follow these essential practices for maximum protection:

  • Install a well reputed Antivirus program. This will protect your device from all forms of cyberattacks. Antivirus programs usually keep updating themselves based off of latest trends in malwares.
  • Get an ad-blocker, these programs prevent pop-up ads which are malicious in nature. These applications work for all websites.
  • Check the security settings on your browser, make sure the “click-to-play” option is turned on. This will prevent drive-by malvertisements from automatically playing on any website. Videos which require plug-in options will require the users consent to play.   
  • If you see an advertisement you are tempted to click on, search for the company mentioned in the ad but do not click it. If the company is genuine then you will be able to access the original website. If the company is fake you will not be able to find a website and also find several complaints concerning said company.

Conclusion

Malvertising will continue to be an issue as long as strict laws and technological measures are adopted. If you work with third-party advertising agencies, make sure to check up on whether they adopt ethical services. Protecting oneself is the best way to stay safe while digital surfing.  Users must keep educating themselves and spread awareness regarding malvertising attacks.  

So, have you made up your mind to make a career in Cyber Security? Visit our Master Certificate in Cyber Security (Red Team) for further help. It is the first program in offensive technologies in India and allows learners to practice in a real-time simulated ecosystem, that will give you an edge in this competitive world.

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