What is malvertising, and how to protect against it?

Nwachukwu Glory Last updated: March 25, 2023 Read time: 18 minutes Disclosure

Malvertisement is a sophisticated web threat that infects your device while you surf online. Here's all about what is a malvertising attack and how to prevent the threat.

Sneak peek at malvertising

Advertisements, especially intrusive ones, are seldom welcome in public on any media. But online advertisements are not just intrusive but may also spread malware – that is, execute malvertising. What makes malvertising popular among adversaries is the stealthy mode of malware transfer. Often, the users’ devices get malware even without interacting with an ad. Therefore, using robust ad and popup blockers is the key to preventing malvertising. Moreover, users also need to follow safe browsing practices and avoid visiting websites from untrusted sources.

Ads can be frustrating and annoying, especially when they keep distracting you. But have you ever wondered if the ads you see on your web browser are legitimate and safe?

Some of them are disturbing; some look normal, but the irony is there could be malicious codes embedded within ads you see online. Such ads are called malvertisements.

Malvertising is a growing trend in the cyber world, and it deploys ads to end-user systems for carrying out cyber attacks. As a result, it can infiltrate your device and cause harm.

Worry no more, though, as this detailed guide will teach you to defend against malvertising attacks. But, to better prevent malvertising, you must understand the basic principles first. So let’s start with them.

Can you get malware from ads?

Yes! You can get malware from ads. The research carried out in 2019 found that hackers imbed malicious codes in one out of every 100 ads with disruptive intent.

Nonetheless, tech giants like Google have been working hard to eliminate intrusive and malicious ads from their platforms.

According to reports, Google removed as many as 100 malicious ads every second in 2017. Out of these 66 million ads were trick-to-click ads, 79 million redirected people to malicious sites, while 48 million tried to persuade internet users to install a malicious program.

Internet users face multiple threats from malicious ads. The most common malvertising threats and attacks are from ads and auto-redirects. In auto-redirects, an internet user is automatically redirected to a harmful page.

Others include malware ransom attacks, phishing scams, auto file downloads, etc. That is the magnitude of malvertising problems internet users face today. So, you must watch out to protect your information from hackers. Do not take it for granted.

Malvertising explained

Malvertising or malicious advertising is a growing technique that cybercriminals use to carry out malicious internet campaigns. The name comes from the combination of two words, which are malware and advertising.

Offenders would often take over an entire advertising network, and sometimes they pay for display ads. They deploy various kinds of ads to carry out cyberattacks and infect users with malware and spyware.

Some malware ads are so robust that it becomes troublesome to avoid them. Talking about malvertising technology’s complexity today, a user may not even click on the ads for the malware to attack in some instances. That means you can become a victim by visiting a site with a malicious ad.

Cybercriminals often develop these malicious ads and place them on both legitimate and illegitimate websites to gain optimum results. Some of the sites where malvertising appears are popular and trusted. Unfortunately, unsuspecting users often load the pages and get infected through the poisoned ads.

What are malvertising attacks used for?

What are Malvertising attacks used for

Cybercriminals develop various forms of malware and use them for many nefarious activities. For example, malvertisers may carry out espionage, sabotage, ransom, and fraudulently profit from advertising and e-commerce agencies.

Did you know that malvertisers can buy advertising space on some of the world’s most popular websites? In the past, these unscrupulous ads have found their way into websites such as Spotify, New York Times, the London Stock exchange, and so on.

As hinted earlier, you can still be a victim whether or not you click on these ads. This strategy is what we know as “Drive-by-Download.” All it takes to be a victim is a mere visit to a website with malicious ads.