Most internet users believe that they are invincible online. It’s only until they fall victim to an attack, and things take a drastic turn, and they realize they were vulnerable. Malvertising is a new technique bad actors use to sneak viruses into ads even on trusted websites. Perhaps the scariest thing about this is that you don’t even have to click on an ad to get infected.
Malvertising is a malicious attack in which cybercriminals inject malicious code into genuine online advertising networks. The embedded code redirects the user to multiple malicious websites and doesn’t necessarily require the user to click on a particular ad.
Malvertising is gaining immense popularity as hackers can easily sneak malicious ads onto legitimate online advertising networks. That way, hackers can infect you while you’re using an otherwise safe website such as The New York Times, Facebook, and Spotify.
For all you know, side banner ads, sidebars, or pop-ups that you come across on websites could just be colorful distractions and have malicious code injected in the ads to infect your device with malware and viruses.
How Does Malvertising Work?
A “malvertiser” employs multiple strategies intending to get the user to download malware on their devices. The malvertiser would submit their malicious ads to third-party online ad vendors in hopes of getting it approved.
Once the vendor approves the ad, the seemingly harmless ad will get displayed on websites the vendor is working with. This doesn’t mean that online vendors aren’t aware of malvertising. Websites are actively banning vendors known to serve them with malicious ads and working only with trusted, reputable vendors for any online ad services.
A Common Misconception Regarding Ads
With little knowledge on the online ad network, internet users believe that ads are only a risk if you click them. Since malvertising can bypass the need of having a user click on a particular ad to download malware in the background, it’s clear that not clicking on an ad will still download the malware.
Some ads can begin downloading a file as soon as you visit a site that’s flooded with malicious ads, mainly torrent and shady streaming sites. On the other hand, some advertisements can be coded to trigger an auto-redirect. An ad that’s coded to redirect will send the user to a new page and force the user’s device to connect to the attacker’s server.
Dangers of Malvertising
When you click an ad, or you are redirected by the website, the next phase of the attack begins where the malware downloads itself on your device and starts to pry on you. The process makes contact with an exploit kit that is designed to find vulnerabilities.
Once the exploit kit discovers any vulnerabilities in your operating system or your browser, the malicious code installs the malware, giving the attacker the ability to snoop on your online activities.
How to Prevent Malvertising
Unfortunately, there isn’t any specific way to get around malvertising. With bad actors using ingenious methods and developing newer codes, some malicious ads have become so effective that they manage to bypass ad-blockers.
However, there are ways to secure yourself against malvertising.
- Use an ad-blocker
Ad-blockers have been at the forefront defending users against malvertising. While they might not be fully effective on all malware as we mention above, using an ad-blocker can significantly prevent you from malvertising. Since ads can be tempting, it’s best to avoid clicking on ads altogether.
- Use antivirus software
Having antivirus software is extremely beneficial for your device. Since antivirus software is updated with the latest database of viruses and malware, they manage to limit the damage caused by malvertising. Ensure that you frequently update your antivirus software to get the best and most current coverage.
- Stay updated
Apart from keeping your system updated, you should also stay updated with the recent data breaches, cybersecurity news, and information about what’s going on in the digital landscape. At the same time, it’s important to keep your devices’ software, extensions, and applications updated.
- Switch off auto-play
Browsers these days come with an auto-play feature as default. Head over to your browser’s settings and switch off the autoplay feature. By switching it off, videos won’t start playing without your approval. Also, video plugins won’t start loading up ads and videos. This will drastically limit ads from opening in the background.
- Be vigilant