Cybersecurity Threats: Malvertising

Sam Bloedow
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 Of all the types of cybercrime that are out on the internet, malvertising might be the form that is the most dangerous because you don’t have to do anything except visit a website to become a victim. Malvertising, or malicious advertising, is a cybersecurity threat that uses the wide reach of legitimate online advertising networks to reach thousands of people who are visiting popular websites in order to deliver malware (malicious software) usually with the intent to hold their data or device hostage, or gain access to financial accounts.

How malvertising works

When you go to a website that has display advertising, such as a newspaper or social site, online advertising networks scan the data that is gathered about you so that they can present an ad that will be relevant to you. Some ads are more targeted than others, but could include your language, the type of device you are using and its operating system, and sometimes a piece of your browsing history. While legitimate advertisers use this information to help you find products and services that you might want, cybercriminals use this technology to find victims.

Malvertising doesn’t look different from any other online ad. In fact, some cybercriminals copy real ads and use those as their lure to get a click-through. But you don’t even need to click on an ad in order to be exposed to the invisible web page containing malicious software that could kidnap your device or grab your bank credentials. These unseen attacks, called drive-by downloads, use programs called exploit kits to profile your device and identify any vulnerabilities that might be present due to unpatched and out-of-date software. Then the malware “phones home” to tell the cybercriminal server what it has found, signaling the delivery of a second malware drop that is designed to use the vulnerability as a way to take control of your whole system.

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Cybersecurity Threats Piggyback Popular Technologies

By piggybacking on the ad network, criminals can have a presence on websites that are visited by thousands of people. In a numbers game, where you are looking for a population with certain attributes that are known to result in a monetary gain, you’ll have more success if you have a large pool of people to pick from. It’s easy to gain entry to the ad networks, and in fact, some cybercriminal rings have set up their own networks to gain access to websites that get paid when they display advertising along with their content. Either way, the criminals start with good ads so that they can gain a good reputation, and then when no one is looking they start to attack. Sometimes they even rotate good with bad ads in order to avoid detection.

Protection from Malvertising

To avoid becoming a victim of malvertising, you need to do more than just practice safe browsing. Keep your software patched and updated so that the exploit kits will not find any way to gain access to your computer. Cybersecurity software that blocks the invisible web page that deploys the exploit kit will provide a layer of protection and prevent a drive-by download.

Addressing Cybersecurity Threats in IT Strategy

More and more cybersecurity threats are evolving because criminals are taking advantage of the technology that we use for business and every life. At Thriveon, security is one of the seven facets of Information Technology Strategy (ITSTM) that we implement with clients as part of our proven process. If you aren’t sure that your company is adequately addressing the risks of cybercrime, that’s where we can start a business conversation to explore how you can better leverage information and technology to do more for your business. 

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