What is Malvertising and Staying Safe

Most people are aware of the dangers of malware, phishing and other schemes perpetuated by computer hackers. Like most Internet users, you probably already take steps to protect yourself. Using anti-virus and anti-malware software helps. Not visiting disreputable sites does too. Also, not clicking on random links or downloading unknown content help to protect you well. Sticking to reputable sites is pretty smart, but here's the thing: Thanks to malvertising, even trusted sites may not be safe. Indeed, this insidious new form of malware is difficult to detect and almost impossible to stop, and it can wreak major havoc on your computer.

What is Malvertising?

To understand what malvertising is, you need to understand how online ads work. These days, most ads come from large advertising networks. Site owners sign up with these networks, which handle all aspects of displaying ads. This includes using special code to identify visitors in order to display ads that will appeal to them. To make all of this work, a lot of code is exchanged between ad networks and users' computers. Therein lies the problem: This code is silently transmitted, so if it's infected--as it is with malvertising--victims rarely realize it until it's too late.

Indirect Attacks from Infected Advertisements

Online advertising is more sophisticated than ever. When someone visits a site, information about them is instantly transmitted to an advertising network. This information may include the country they're in, the operating system and browser they use, the keywords they used to arrive at the page and even their search history. As quick as lightning, the network generates ads that should appeal to the demographic of the user in question. This exchange involves the transfer of code. Clean advertising code doesn't tend to cause problems. Infected code, however, can surreptitiously install malware on a user's computer, where it can cause huge amounts of damage.

An Escalating Problem

Malware is nothing new, but malvertising is. In fact, some would argue that malvertising has yet to reach its heyday. In 2013, 12.4 billion malicious ad impressions were produced, which represents an increase of 225 percent over 2012. To engage in malvertising, a hacker must spend significant amounts of money to buy and post ads. Since the issue is more widespread than ever, it's clear that these hackers are getting very good returns on their investments. They often use fake account information and stolen credit cards, so even if an investigation gets that far, it's usually just about impossible to find the culprits.

How to Protect Yourself from Malvertising

Since malvertising can happen in on major, reputable sites like YouTube, simply sticking with such sites isn't enough to avoid this threat. First, always keep your operating system, browser and browser plugins up to date. Patches are quickly released to protect users against malvertising and other threats. Next, adjust your browser settings so Flash and other ads are "click to run" only, which means you must give your permission for their scrips to run. Disabling Java can help too.

Perhaps most importantly of all, purchase and install a reputable antivirus/antimalware program. Even if all of these steps are followed, however, you could easily become a victim of malvertising. If you have data on your computer that you can't risk losing, the best option is to store it remotely. This can be challenging too because you need to find a safe, reliable, secure place to do so. Netlok, a secured online storage solution, is an effective way to protect your most important documents and data. By storing your sensitive data remotely, you can rest easy in the knowledge that is won't be compromised by malvertising attacks.