Malicious ads may seem like something out of a bad sci-fi novel, but in this modern digital age, online ads are almost everywhere and malware is almost as common. Whether you’re on social media, streaming, or browsing the news, chances are you’ll be exposed to digital ads while you’re doing it.
We warned you about adware, but malicious ads are a different version of infected ads. However, if you keep reading, we will show you what malware is and how to avoid it.
What is malicious advertising?
Malicious advertising is the use of advertising to spread malware between devices. We’re not used to digital advertising these days, and cybercriminals know it. Thus, by using ads to deliver malware, it is easier to deceive the victim and the device they are using.
Malicious advertising is a relatively new player in cybercrime, having only been around for about 15 years. But the threats of this cybercrime tactic are clear.
Well-designed malicious ads can look like any other harmless ad you might see on the internet, be it a banner ad, a pop-up, or something else. This means they can be difficult to spot. Those who create and distribute this content are known as “malicious advertisers”.
Malicious ads often send their malicious ads to a third party that can display their content to them. The third party is probably unaware that they are dealing with something dangerous. But in reality, these malicious ads will then be distributed to everyone who comes across the third-party site, putting them at risk.
(Image credit: Pixabay)
In addition, malware can compromise a third-party server to install malicious code in its ads.
The cornerstone of malicious advertising is the use of exploit kits or exploit packs. They are used by cybercriminals to exploit security vulnerabilities on the target’s device. In short, they make it easier for an attacker to access and use systems.
Exploit kits are especially useful for those who do not have sufficient technical knowledge. Contrary to popular belief, not all cybercriminals are tech-savvy, which has opened up a hole in the black market. Using an exploit kit, an attacker can greatly facilitate the process of hacking a device.
The exploit process begins with a landing page that contains code that can scan the target device for any existing security vulnerabilities. If there is a vulnerability that can then be exploited, the attacker who bought the exploit kit will be notified.
Exploit kits typically use vulnerabilities in browser extensions such as Java and Flash to attack a system. If the exploit is successful, the kit can launch a malicious payload on the victim’s device, transferring control to the attacker.
There are a number of notable malicious advertising campaigns that have taken place in the past or are ongoing. Let’s take RoughTed for example. This massive malware campaign peaked in 2017 when it was first discovered. RoughTed operators have been able to use a number of different methods to successfully distribute malware.
What’s particularly worrying about malicious ads is that you don’t have to interact with them much for their malware to spread to your device. All it takes is one click on the malicious ad and the malware can be installed.
Malicious ads can install various types of malware on your device, including spyware, ransomware, and viruses.
So what can you do to avoid malicious ads and protect your devices?
Since it only takes one click to become a victim of malicious advertising, it is very important to know how to avoid it.
(Image credit: Pixabay)
Because malicious ads use exploit kits that scan for vulnerabilities, it’s important to make sure your devices are as secure as possible. This includes using the best antivirus software, firewalls, and deleting any software you no longer use.
It is also important to update applications and the operating system regularly. Updates may include fixes for bugs and vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers. Thus, updating your programs and device can further protect you from malicious ads.
Using an ad blocker of some kind can also be beneficial as it will help you avoid ads in general and therefore reduce the chances of interacting with malicious ads.
In addition, you should limit the use of extensions such as Flash and Java and ensure that they are only active when you are using them. You can do this by enabling the click-to-play feature in your browser, which will prevent these programs from running if you don’t want them to.
Google Chrome, for example, has a click-to-play feature that works with all extensions. So consider using this feature to avoid malicious ads.
Malicious ads are common but can be avoided
Today, the risk of being exposed to malicious ads should be of concern to all of us. But by using proper security measures and staying vigilant online, you can reduce the risk of being exposed to malicious ads while helping protect your device and data.