Cybersecurity Insight

Malicious Advertising: The Next Most Dangerous Threat

19 Nov

You boot up your computer. Your antivirus software immediately gets to work, finishes its duties, and gives you the “green” light that everything is A-OK.

What you don’t know is that a more sophisticated form of malware lies deep within the memory, not on your hard drive like most viruses, of your computer. The fact that your antivirus software skipped its check of your computer’s memory isn’t your biggest problem. Your biggest problem is how your computer became infected in the first place: malicious advertising, otherwise known as “malvertising” or a “malvertisement”.

It seems we can’t go anywhere online today without an advertisement popping up somewhere. Want to read this blog post? Here’s a one minute video ad before you do so. Browsing for a new jacket but not sure what you want yet? No problem, we’ll just serve you retargeted ads on every other web page you visit. Advertising abundance is both a curse and a blessing – serving you what you want, but in such a large quantity that it becomes overbearing.

Malicious advertising is dangerous because it looks like any other advertisement out there; not even the most knowledgeable technical gurus can tell the difference with one glance. It takes next-generation firewalls, sophisticated security software, to detect and block these malvertisements that don’t even need to be interacted with – you just need to visit a website that happens to have one. An example of an infection from malicious advertising stems from the Angler exploit kit, a more sophisticated and highly undetectable form of malware. Those that know what to look for can stop Angler from wreaking havoc on their computer of network, but it’s difficult to stop the process once it’s begun.

How do you protect yourself against malvertising? There really is no way to be 100% sure that the site you are visiting is safe. Many globally trusted sites – such as The Washington Post or the New York Times – have precautionary advertising guidelines regarding what is deemed questionable and potentially malicious. Other sites may not have these precautionary measures, and will put up any ad that has paid for the space.

In the end using common sense judgment is always a good practice to navigate the stormy Internet waters and avoid malicious advertising. You can also stay ahead of security threats with continuous monitoring, enhanced intelligence, proactive prevention, early threat recognition, rapid response, and investigation of root causes. Better knowledge means better protection when combined with comprehensive tools to defend your networks, data, devices, web traffic, applications, and more.