While most people find advertising—whether in print, on television, or online—to be a minor annoyance at worst, a new criminal behavior is on the rise that can have serious consequences for consumers.
It’s important to go ahead and state that advertising does serve a necessary purpose: not only does it inform consumers of new products and services, it helps keep the costs of websites and other forms of media down. If not for advertising dollars, producers of any form of content would otherwise not be able to afford to publish their material for their audiences in a cost-effective way.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals have a new trick up their sleeves when it comes to spreading malicious software, and it involves advertising content. Called “malvertising,” it’s the spread of viruses, malware, adware, spyware, and other harmful code through seemingly legitimate ads.
First, the cybercriminal has to post legitimate ads so that known networks develop a “trust” for the user and the network that originated it. Consumers also need to grow a sense of trust in the advertisement, too. Once that trust is in place, then malicious code can be embedded in the digital ad, and it’s less likely to be blocked because the website or consumer has already approved it in the past by clicking it.
An article for net-security.com painted a clear picture of the extent of the damage: “According to the Association of National Advertisers, ad-fraud will cost global advertisers more than $6 billion in 2015.” The article went on to state, “Malvertising attacks will only likely increase throughout 2015 and into 2016. Cyber criminals looking to carry out malvertising attacks look for the point of least resistance such as the hosting sites.”
While cybercriminals would love to get their hands on a lot of consumer information via a data breach, the easier route for those less tech savvy criminals is to infect individual consumers through this kind of click behavior. In order to protect themselves, experts recommend that consumers avoid the “drive by” behavior of clicking on random advertisements that they can’t verify. It’s also vital that users keep their internet security measures up-to-date with strong antivirus and antimalware software that they routinely patch with new updates.