You may just think online ads are annoying pop ups. But think again, malicious online advertisements (malvertisements) is one of the ways criminals spread malware onto your computer. Cybercriminals are a crafty bunch. They hack into a trusted website and inject their malware into third-party banners and online ads. Or they pose as legitimate advertisers and insert malware codes behind their ads. Both methods allow attackers to infect as many computers as possible in a short amount of time.
Malware, viruses, Trojan Horse and other such nasty bugs have cost governments and businesses a lot of money over the years. Heck, it just cost me over $300 to repair my laptop because I didn’t have an adequate firewall or anti-virus software installed. The cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, requiring more diligence on our part to protect our computers.
Malvertising attacks are so powerful because they can infect thousands of sites at one time by infiltrating popular online ad services that are syndicated. Websites that run third-party ads are not in direct control of syndicated ads so their ability to protect visitors from these malvertisements is very limited. What’s worse is after the damage is done, attackers easily remove or discontinue their ad without a trace.
Some malvertisements don’t even require you to click on the ad itself. Just having the malicious ad pop up on your screen is enough to unleash the malware onto your computer.
So what options do you have to protect your computer? Here are some helpful tips:
- Make sure your browser, browser plug-ins and operating system is up to date. Outdated software is just an open invitation for cybercriminals to exploit your computers weak spots.
- It is not enough to just install antivirus software. Also install a two-way firewall and make sure your security software is up to date.
- DO NOT click on any pop-ups that say you’ve won a prize. And beware of any pop-ups that claim your computer has been infected with a virus. These are scareware pop-ups that just allow the cybercriminal a way to infect your system.
- Use your pop-up blocker feature or install an ad block add-on through your browser. I have heard that Firefox is one of the best to use and I use it myself, but I am not an expert on that subject so I leave that up to your own choice. A pop-up ad can infect your computer as soon as it shows up on your screen and in some cases, the malware will execute when you click the “X” to close the pop-up window.
- Lastly, be especially observant and cautious of your browsing activity on weekends as this tends to be the time that cyber criminals are most active. It is during off-peak times and IT resources are low so attacks can likely go unnoticed.
Remember, as companies do more advertising online to get consumer attention, malvertising will only become more prevalent. These are just a few ways to ensure that any applications running on your computer are legitimate. You don’t want to be caught off guard or tempted to click on what could quite possibly be not just an annoying but dangerous ad.
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