Malvertising Explained

Online ads work because, well, they work. But sometimes, behind seemingly innocent ads lurks a serious cybercrime known as 'malvertising,' which threatens online identity and security. So, what is Malvertising, what are the warning signs, and how can you protect yourself?

What is Malvertising?

Malvertising is a tactic cybercriminals use to spread malware through seemingly legitimate sponsored ads. Hackers will pay to post these deceptive ads on mainstream platforms like Google and Facebook, and anyone who clicks on the ad, or even just scrolls past it, could end up installing malware onto their device. 

The risks of malvertising

"What's the big deal if I accidentally click on a scam ad?" Well, the consequences of accidentally exposing your device to malvertising can be frightening. Depending on the type of malware involved, you could end up dealing with anything from a slower device to personal data leaks.  In some cases, you could end up completely locked out of your own files, resulting in invasion of privacy, financial loss, or even identity theft.

Where am I going to run into Malvertising? 

Now, you might think that sticking to popular, trusted websites keeps you safe from malvertising. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Cybercriminals constantly adapt and exploit vulnerabilities, slipping malicious ads into trusted brands like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. So, while these giant platforms have powerful security measures, they're not immune. This means you have to stay alert no matter where you browse online, as malvertising can appear anywhere, from news sites to social media platforms.

How to spot Malvertising

Detecting malvertising isn't always easy. These dangerous ads are designed to blend into the online landscape, making them practically indistinguishable from other legitimate ads. However, there are some signs to watch out for:

Too good to be true: Watch out for ads offering unbelievable deals or prizes. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Fear or urgency: Ads that create a sense of fear or urgency to click immediately should raise red flags. Cybercriminals often use tactics like pretending your device is infected so that you take immediate action.

Unsolicited downloads: Avoid ads that ask you to download software or files without your consent. Legitimate ads won't force you to download anything.

Request for personal information: Avoid ads asking for passwords, credit card details, or SSNs. 

Poor design or spelling: Malicious ads may have poor design, spelling errors, or grammar mistakes.

Suspicious URLs: Check the URL of the ad's landing page before clicking. If it looks suspicious or unfamiliar, it's best to avoid clicking on the ad.

Unexpected pop-ups: Be cautious of unexpected pop-up ads, especially those warning about viruses or offering tech support. These could be attempts to trick you into downloading malware or paying for fake services.

What are some of the most common types of malvertising?

There are many types of malvertising, each with its own tactics and malicious goals. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Redirects: When you click on an ad, it can take you on a bit of a journey through different servers. Hackers can use this to sneak malware into places you wouldn't expect.

Fake alerts: You know those pop-ups that scream, "Your computer is infected! Click here to fix it!"? Well, they're often just cleverly disguised ads trying to trick you into downloading malware. 

Drive-by downloads: Imagine this: you visit a website, and suddenly, your device starts downloading malware without you even clicking anything. Yup, that's drive-by downloads for you. Scary, right?

Social engineering: It's like an ad pretending to be your friend. These sneaky ads use familiar faces or trusted sources to trick you into clicking on harmful links or giving away personal info.

Exploit kits: Ever heard of ads that seem to know your computer's weak spots? They use that knowledge to quietly slip malware onto your device.

Cross-site scripting (XSS): These are innocent-looking ads that inject malicious code into a legitimate website, messing with the website's functionality.

How to stay safe

Protecting yourself from malvertising starts with being cautious online, staying informed, and being selective about what you click on. As a general rule of thumb, we suggest being careful with sponsored ads. Remember, someone's paying to put these in front of you. Always question: why?

For that additional layer of security, make sure you’re using Guardio - it will always stop you from clicking on or opening a file that will infect your computer with malware. 

Guardio keeps you safe by: 

  • Scanning websites and blocking malicious ads instantly. 
  • Preventing harmful ads from appearing on your screen.
  • Regularly monitoring sites for potential risks.
  • Extending phishing protection to malvertising scams.
  • Providing 24/7 protection, detecting and blocking malvertising attacks in real-time. 

Malvertising uses different tactics to manipulate users and unknowingly infect their devices. They might hide harmful content in ads you see, making you accidentally install malware. Or they might trick you into downloading malicious software by pretending to be something they're not, like a fake alert or a pop-up. Sometimes they'll even pretend to be a brand you know or someone you trust to get your personal info. And they can even mess with legit websites you visit by adding bad code to them.

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