Malvertising: What It Is and How to Avoid It

What is Malvertising? 

Malvertising is the act of using online ads to make your computer vulnerable. It is often confused with adware as both attacks use ads to infect the user’s computer. The primary difference between the two is that malvertising comes from ads displayed on legitimate websites.  

Malvertising is so powerful that it can carry all types of malware, from adware or spyware to ransomware, or any malware that can change the code on your router. Exploit kits, botnets, Trojans, crypto jackersand so on are all on the menu of malvertising. 

How Does Malvertising Work? 

Malvertising attack works in different methods, and the most common of them are: 

Pre-click: Using a special script, the attacker makes the ad appear on a landing page of a legitimate website. When the user visits the page, the malvertising campaign downloads with the loading of the ad on the webpage. Even without clicking anything on the website, the user’s system is now infected. 

Post-click: In this type of campaign, the malware is downloaded when the user clicks on the malicious ad. Attackers may also redirect the user to a malicious page. 

Sources of Malvertising 

There are few sites that attackers consider as potential business pages. 

  • Online dating 
  • Pornographic 
  • Gambling  
  • Sites offering Flash games 
  • Torrent sites 
  • Sites offering free downloads/software/cracks 
  • Illegal streaming 
  • Sites offering free coupons/discount/deals 
  • Sites offering free quiz/online games 
  • Sites offering Not safe for life/Not safe for work content 
  • Sites offering unreliable content 

Unfortunately, malvertising attempts can be found anywhere as it can be laid on very trustworthy sites at high speed. 

Risks of Malvertising Campaigns  

Malvertising and malicious ads can pose a threat to your computer and personal information. Here are a few crucial risks that you may experience as a victim: 

  • Infects your computer

Malvertising can be directed to install malware or viruses on your computer, which you may not be aware of. By installing malicious software, which hides in your computer, hackers can track your keystrokes to steal your passwords or other confidential data available. It may also corrupt the system or hard drive and can spread ransomware.  

  • Compromises your personal information 

Many malvertising attacks are designed to collect your personal information, especially your bank and financial details. When hackers gain access to your personal information, they can exploit them to spread vulnerabilities to your contacts, access your bank accounts, or do anything that can result in monetary loss. 

  • Misuse of credit card

If hackers could track your credit card information, then they can misuse your card to make purchases that are not legal or exhaust the credit amount for their use. In case you don’t verify your credit card bills regularly, then you could end up repaying bills for purchases that you haven’t made. 

How to Avoid Malvertising 

Malvertising attacks are most often uninvited guests on your browser or in your computer. Here is how you can prevent them from entering and infecting your systems: 

  1. Turn on security settings on your browser

Every browser has a “click-to-play” option. By turning this on, all online content that requires plugins to play will get disabled. Online content asking for plugins installation, such as Java, Flash, or Adobe Reader, will play only on your consent and not automatically. By selecting the option “click-to-play,” you protect yourself from drive-by download malvertising 

  1. Install an ad blocker

When an ad doesn’t show on your browser, there are no chances of you clicking on it by accident. To stop ads appearing on your browser, you need an ad blocker. There are many ad blockers that are available free of cost on the Internet; however, paid ad blockers provide better service. Free ad blockers may not be able to block all the ads on your browser and may not be supported on a few websites. You can direct the ad blockers to restrict online ads from selected websites.  

  1. Invest in an antivirus program

Antivirus is crucial for any system. It protects your system from malvertising and many other forms of cyberattacks to a great extent. Invest in an antivirus that is legitimate and represents a recognized software manufacturer. When you install an antivirus, ensure that you promptly update the software whenever the update notifications appear. Often these updates are released as patches to enable the software to deal with specific risk. 

Also Read: Beware of Fake Antivirus Software 

Malvertising will continue to grow until there will be a monumental shift in how the ads in the Internet are funded. Major malvertising campaigns backed by huge finances will not disappear unless they find a viable behemoth of making money. Though the malvertising menace is actively funded, there is still scope for self-protection. Proper awareness and training on self-defense will combat the scope of growth of such campaigns. EC-Council through its program, Certified Secure Computer User (CSCU), is imparting necessary knowledge and skills on the protection of information assets. You do not have to be computer savvy or technical expert to consider this program. In fact, this program is for every computer user connected to the Internet! 

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