What Is Malvertising and How To Avoid It
Online advertising is an important promotional mechanism for many websites, apps, and other internet businesses. The online community is a vast tool capable of reaching many people at once, and with the continuous expansion and demand, online networks will continue to grow.
As a result, ads are everywhere you look on the internet. While some are normal and safe, others are dangerous with malicious code embedded in them. The latter is a form of cyberattack that takes advantage of advertising to infect your device with malware.
The reality is that even the most legitimate websites can be injected with malicious software. By viewing or clicking on ads, your computer’s data and control can be put at risk.
This type of cyberattack is referred to as malvertising.
What is malvertising?
Malvertising is derived from two terms -‘advertising’ and ‘malware’ - and it’s a common tactic used to attack ad campaigns. Cybercriminals embed malware into otherwise safe ads in specific places on the internet. This helps them spread the malware into a device as soon as an online user clicks on the ad. You may not need to click the ad in some situations. Merely visiting the site hosting the malicious ads may be enough to infect your computer.
There’s a range of ways attackers infect ads, so they will be powerful enough to carry out any type of malware.
How does malvertising work?
Malvertising works in different ways, but the end goal is to insert malicious code into an ad. Anyone who clicks on such an ad or visits the site will either see their devices immediately infected with malware or be redirected to a malicious site.
Typically, cyberattackers buy ad space on trustworthy sites and present ostensibly ‘normal’ ads, except they have malicious code concealed in them. Most reliable sites are aware of the possibility of malvertising, but cyberattackers still find a way around them without getting detected.
The most common forms of malvertising are:
With this, your device is infected by malware when you visit a website’s landing page. The malware automatically downloads as the ad loads on your page. You don’t need to go as far as clicking on it.
Post-click campaigns only affect you when you click on a malicious ad on a website. When this happens, either the malware is downloaded to your device, or you’re redirected to a malicious page.
Malvertising infects not only you as the attack victim but the host website too.
Examples of malvertising
With these two forms of malvertising, this cyberattack comes in different ways. The bottom line is they both pose a risk of exposing your sensitive information. Here are some common malvertising examples:
Most malware ads will redirect you to websites that may look legitimate but in fact are intended for phishing attacks. Once you’re on these sites, personal information such as credit card, bank account, and Social Security Numbers are all at risk of exposure. Such websites usually feature legitimate-looking webpages for banks and credit providers.
If you’re not careful, then various malware types can infect your computer such as Spyware, Trojans, Viruses, Cryptojacking, and Ransomware if any action is taken on a particular site. They’re all over popular and legitimate sites and are easy to fall victim to.
They’re incredibly dangerous because without making any fuss, they can steal your personal and financial information, monitor your computer transactions and messages.
Drive-by downloads are a type of pre-click malvertising. You don’t need to click or take any action before your device becomes infected. As long as you visit a website, it automatically downloads to your computer.
Sources of malvertising
There are several types of websites cyberattackers use to target online users with malvertising. They include:
- Torrent sites
- Illegal streaming sites
- Online dating
- Gambling sites
- Pornographic sites
- Sites with unreliable content
- Sites offering Flash games
- Sites offering free downloads/software/cracks
- Sites offering free coupons/discount/deals
- Sites offering free quiz/online games
- Sites offering Not safe for work content
However, malvertising isn’t limited to these examples. It can affect almost any website.
Advanced malvertising attacks have also previously attacked popular companies like The New York Times, WordPress, and Spotify.
Malvertising vs adware
The terms malvertising and adware are often wrongly used. Rather than being interchangeable, they are two different concepts. Malvertising is the embedded code in a malicious ad you download by either clicking or visiting a site. Adware is a type of malware program that continuously runs on a device after it’s been either installed alone or with another software.
Malvertising uses ads to spread malware, while adware is a form of malware installed on a device. It’s possible to use malvertising to spread adware by using ads to manipulate users to download it.
What are the risks of malvertising?
Malvertising poses a considerable risk to your personal information and can adversely impact businesses. Here are some ways through which you can be targeted:
Hackers might compromise your financial information
The most common reason for malvertising is to collect your personal information. Personal details such as contacts and financial data can be used to gain access to your accounts and put you at a high risk of personal monetary loss. If you become a victim, then it can damage your reputation, and limit your access to these accounts.
Hackers may misuse your credit card and put you in debt
With your personal information in the hands of hackers, you’re exposed to credit card misuse for purchases you didn’t order.
The scammers will likely exhaust your credit amount and put you in debt if they can. You may become aware of credit charges in some cases, but some may be systematically done, and you may not notice. If you don’t verify your credit card bills regularly, you may not be able to dispute them. This could lead to you paying for purchases you didn’t make.
Your computer might get infected
Asides from siphoning your personal information, your computer stands at significant risk of getting infected. Malvertising can install viruses or other forms of malicious software on your computer. It might take a while before you realize this because malware has a way of cleverly hiding on your device.
Hackers can use malware to track you, steal your passwords, or access other confidential data. It can also corrupt your computer and affect its efficiency – this is usually in the form of ransomware.
How to protect yourself against malvertising
Malvertising is a cyberattack that, thankfully, can be prevented. Even though these cyberattackers know how to evade detection, you can double your guard to prevent any successful malvertising attacks from happening to you. It’s important to protect your information and computer. Here’s how:
Use an ad blocker
The possibility of clicking on a malicious ad only happens when they show up on your screen. If you don’t see them, you can’t click on them, even if it’s by accident. If you’re wondering how to get rid of malvertising, installing ad blockers is an effective way of doing so. An ad blocker clears your webpages of ads and stops them from appearing on your browser. This way, you’re protected against malvertising.
Ad blockers range from free to paid ones. Although some free ad blockers are very efficient, using paid ad blockers is more advisable. A few websites may not support free ad blockers. Ad blockers also give you the flexibility of restricting online ads from selected websites.
Turn on security settings in browser
Many people only restrict their browser usage to the default set up and never utilize the extra settings.
Another trick on how to stop malvertising is to enable the ‘click-to-play’ option in your settings. Selecting this means all online content will require plugins to play. Online content players like Java, QuickTime, Adobe Reader, or Flash will only work when you manually enable them and not automatically.
This way, you can protect yourself from drive-by downloads.
Install an antivirus or anti-malware software on your computer
Another way to prevent malvertising is by installing cybersecurity software. Doing this is the best way to protect your computer from malware – particularly malvertising. You need a reputable antivirus program on your computer to shield you from any form of cyberattack.
You’ll also need to regularly update your software to enable it to fit your specific needs. The updates are there to reduce your vulnerability risk from time to time.
Clario is an all-in-one cybersecurity software that gives you the extra layer of protection you need against malvertising and other forms of malware your computer may be at risk of. Download the Clario software and get your device geared for optimum protection.
In case you already have an infected device, you can learn how to remove malvertising and other malware.