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What is Malvertising? Examples and How it Works

  • Pragya Soni
  • Oct 12, 2021
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While scrolling your Instagram or Facebook feeds, we often see some promising advertisements. And, when we click on the link, a web page appears saying some error page. What are these ads? Why do they appear so? And, what can they cause to your device?


What is Malvertising?


The term Malvertising is a blend of two specific words, malicious and advertising. The meaning of the term malicious in general English means something that is hurtful and disappointing. 


In layman language, it can be termed as misappropriate and troublesome. Whereas the meaning of advertising is known to all of us. Promoting a product or services to the public through a means of media is advertising. So, malvertising can be defined as the process of creating ads which is harmful or troublesome for others.


(Suggested Read - AI in Advertising)


Technically, malvertising is a technology that helps the attacker to program a code. The other side of the code appears usual to the users. But actually, it is a source of malware such as virus or Trojan. 


Malvertising is also called malicious advertising. It is the kind of fake advertising where the program appears as original to the user, but is harmful in nature.


Source - malvertising vs genuine ad


Where can malvertisements appear?


Malvertisements can appear anywhere on the internet. It can appear on some random websites or on trusted websites too. It can popup while downloading data from the internet or while uploading something. 


What are the types of Malvertising?

Malvertisments can be of many types like popup ads, inline frames, animated ads, video ads, banner, etc.

Types of Malvertising


Malvertising can be of any form like inline content, intext content, or banner types. The top types in which malvertising can exist are as follows.


  1. Banner


Malicious ads can be created in the form of banners. These banners lure the users with their content.


For example, have you ever seen an ad saying 50% off on some Levi's jeans while scrolling through a random website. Or 'Get ₹300 with one missed call', while reading a news article online.


These are the examples of banner type of malvertising.


  1. Text shaped malvertisements


This is the most frequent and common type of malvertising. Here the illegal mob forward a luring text message on apps like Whatsapp and Facebook, and ask the others to forward it to more users, to avail the reward.


(Related blog - Big Data in Facebook)


For example, many times a message is forwarded on whatsapp group saying :


Forward this message to 12 groups and get a free recharge.


Or, share this message to 10 contacts and a happy thing will happen.


These are not real offers, but the frauds waiting to get into your device.


  1. Video ads


Attackers may create an attractive video, customised to your interest. Like it can have a clip of your favourite actor or about the details of an exam you have searched on the internet. It grabs your attention, you click on the link and make a way for hackers to enter into your system.


  1. Animated ads


Attacker is a creative animal. He can use Java or other programming languages and can insert malicious code in it. It may appear like an exciting GIF or a moving image to the users.


  1. iFrames


Also known as inline frames, iFrame is a feature of HTML programming. The attacker can insert a particular inline frame part in a website. And by an accidental click, users make it easier for the attackers to ruin their devices.


  1. Popup ads


Popup may be defined as a random window that appears when a user enters a website or tries to download something from it.


How malvertising works

 Many of the scammers and attackers officially rent their ads on the reputed websites. Sometimes, even the site is not aware of it. They insert the malicious codes in the ads and then spread them around different platforms. 


These types of ads look very general and users trust it as it. Also as it comes from a trusted website. The chance of doubts diminish.  Most of the time these ads are lucrative in nature. It offers heavy discounts and rewards. 


(Suggested Read - Threats of Digital Piracy)


Innocent customers can not identify it. They click the ad, it takes the traffic to some other unauthorised site. Ask permissions to use your device location, phone contacts, camera access etc. In greed of reward, the audience grants those permissions and attackers are thus able to attack your device with malware.


Why is malvertising a tricky thing?

Malvertising refers to harmful and troublesome advertisements which look real. These kinds of ads have malwares in it. For example, Virus and Trojan. They enter the device through legitimate websites.


Malvertising is a tricky thing because the users can not differentiate between the real ad and fake ad. And, that's obvious too. No one can think that malware can enter the device from a trusted site or source. 


If the ad is displayed on a website, like Yahoo, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. on which users trust then why would they question if it is real or not?


Consider a real life example: Coronavirus is in the air, but we can't see it. Neither air looks different because of its presence. But we know that it is fatal. Right? Similar, happens with computer virus, it's hard to identify it, before it attacks the software.


Read article: Risk management in cloud


Why does a reputed or trusted site allow malvertising through it?


You may think that why do reputable platforms or websites allow scammers to publish their malicious advertisements on their website? Obviously, that's a valid question, Because if this happens they might lose their worth. 


Malicious ads can cause them a heavy loss of reputation. There are many reasons for it, while some sites do it for money, they are genuinely not aware of the attackers intentions. Also, the process of online advertising, be it malvertising, is quite complex in nature. 


Read about: Web Analytics


Here are the reasons why so? Following are the ways through which a malvertisement enters a trusted site.


  1. Utilize third party add distributors


To display the ads on the legitimate sites, most of the scammers use third party distributors such as Google ads, Propeller ads etc. 


Third party distributors, they have a very huge platform on which they show various kinds of ads and they remain in touch with the various companies who want to publish their ads on the recognised websites, and they know a lot of publishers too who publish the ads to earn income. 


According to the venture beat reports Google delivers around 30 billion ads everyday, and the most interesting thing is that no one is going to look over each code on those ads. These attackers use the third parties mentioned above to increase their reach.


  1. To display malicious advertising rent space


Some owners of websites offer spaces to the advertisers on rent .To generate extra income, they rent their website instead of becoming a third party distributor.


For example, Tiktok, Inshot, Instagram reels, and any video maker or editor community.The advertisers show various kind of ads like:


  1. Sponsored article


  1. Videos


  1. Ad banners


  1. In- line text ads 


In the beginning these attackers show genuine real ads. After gaining the trust of the audience and website. The attackers replace the original program with a malware-functioning program.


3. Take advantage of the host website.


Due to the weak security posture, some of the attackers ruin  the website and manipulate them to show the malvertisement. In such cases the owner of the site does not know anything about the malvertisement which is being shown on his site, and so they don't receive any money from that. 


For example, recently the news spread on the internet saying that the twitter accounts of eminent personalities were hacked.



What are some examples of Malvertising?


Let us tell you some of the most genuine examples of Malvertising.


  1. Spin the wheel


You often have played spin a wheel kind of game where the users are asked to spin a wheel in order to win some rewards. The discount offer often contains the risk of malware. 


  1. Questions and Answer session of some trusted apps


Quora and reddit, some discussion forums, allow the ads in Q&A format. They took the fees according to the number of clicks, percentage of the sale or to the time slot given weekly or monthly.


  1. Compromising ads


So, if on a reputed website you see an ad that promises 25% off on the iPhones for the Amazon prime users then it can be a malvertising ad and you may not be aware of that. This kind of ads are also available for flipkart and snapdeals platform.


(Related blog - Big Data in Amazon)



Disadvantages of Malvertising

Malvertising or Malvertisements male way for viruses or Trojans to enter our devices. If malware gets inside of users device, it can cause the following malfunctions of the device:


  1. Unsanctioned access


Malware can provide unsanctioned access to your device to a third party.


  1.  Crash the system


It can crash your system. And can also result in slow operations of the device.


  1.  Information leak


It can capture some important information like the password of users, and other account details.


  1. Ransomware attack


It can steal your data via ransomware attacks.


  1. Can keep an eye on you


Malware can also send your recent updates and activities to the attackers.


  1. Harmful results


Attackers might use your device to conduct some illegal and harmful activities.


Malvertising is quite harmful for the computer and other devices. While using a website or platform, be careful. Also, never grant unnecessary permissions to some random ads. Keeping a few points in mind you can protect your device from malware.

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