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Malvertising: Protecting Yourself from Malicious Ads

Jul 27th, 2016 | Posted by | Filed under Indianapolis IT support

We’ve gotten smarter about malware. An email with a strange looking sender or a suspicious link is easy to avoid when you know how to look for it. But malware does not always make itself so obvious. Sometimes, it acts more like a chameleon and is able to slip in to legitimate websites. One form of this is known as “malvertising.”

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Understanding Malvertising

Malvertising is a particularly deceptive form of malware which poses as a genuine advertisement on a website, but is actually holding malware. Some of these ads do not even require you clicking on them to do damage- simply scrolling over them can be enough. There are even forms of malvertising that do not need ANY kind of interaction. All you have to do is visit an infected page.

The scary thing is that avoiding unsecure websites is not a plan to keep you safe from malvertising. In the past, malvertising has attacked major websites such as Yahoo, AOL, and The New York Times. Hackers want to place these ads on high-traffic websites such as these to reach more people.

You can check out our infographic below more to learn more about the threat of malvertising, which continues to grow year after year (between 2014 and 2015, the amount of malvertising tripled). What you need to know is that the threat is growing and is all over the internet.

It’s important to note that the payload for the majority of malvertising is ransomware. Ransomware is when a hacker “holds your computer hostage”  in some way and demands something, usually money, in order to release your computer. Often there will be some kind of time element to make the threat more compelling.

Malvertising Infographic
What You Can Do

            Because malvertising can occur on websites you trust and visit daily, avoiding the risks is not so much about caution but PRECAUTION, as in putting systems in place before you ever go to a website.

  • Installing an ad blocker: This can greatly minimize the threat of malvertising, however some sites will block their content when they detect one installed for revenue reasons. Therefore, if you want to go to one of these sites you will need additional security in place.
  • Click-to-run browser settings: Browsers have settings so that Flash and Java do not take action automatically, and instead must be clicked on to run. This is a step to make sure you control what you see and not the advertisement. Flash in particular is a popular target for cyber criminals.
  • Keep your computer updated: Malware is looking for vulnerabilities in your system. Patches and updates are released for browsers, operating systems, and security programs frequently once issues are discovered. Even an old version of Java or Flash could present a risk. Don’t let malware find this weakness and make sure everything on your computer is updated frequently.

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L5 Solutions believes in multi-layer systems to protect our clients from threats such as these. We have tested multiple anti-virus systems to find one we most recommend and have strong firewall systems on any computer we monitor. For laptops used on the go that are outside of the office, we have other security systems in place to ensure protection.

Cyber criminals are always going to be looking for new ways to comprise your computer. Malvertising may be a current “fad”, but as people better educate themselves it may lose popularity. This is why it is so important to ALWAYS practice safe browsing and to stay aware of current threats. Cyber criminals may be smart, but we can be smarter.

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