What Is Malvertising and When Ads Are Traps

What goods or services do individuals wish to purchase? What queries do users make on Yahoo, Bing, or Google? What kind of advertisements might entice consumers of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or other social networks?

Malvertising attacks are initiated by hackers using these valid queries as a springboard. These questions are asked by all businesses looking to market their products through social networks or search engine advertising (SEM).

Malvertising is a technique that, like many others, mixes different kinds of malware with social engineering techniques. In this sense, the name itself gives away how it operates: malevolent actors utilize search engines and social network advertising to trick individuals and businesses into downloading software or files that contain malware.

Millions of businesses utilize Facebook, Instagram, and Google advertisements to market their goods and services, so malvertising is a tactic with a lot of potential for criminals. These ads are a common sight in our daily lives. As a result, if the advertisement and the page it links to appear legitimate, it is possible for a malevolent actor to trick a citizen.

1. Setting Clear Objectives

Despite its apparent insignificance, a crucial element of malvertising is selecting the business and the good or service whose identity is to be spoofed. After all, no one will click on a malicious advertisement if the promoted goods do not pique users' attention.

For instance, several malvertising ads promoting the services of some of the most well-known generative AIs in the world—ChatGPT, DALL-E, SORA, and Midjourney—were revealed on Facebook at the beginning of April 2024. In what way did they entice their targets?

Apart from utilizing goods and services that are in great demand by the public, we want to consider an additional benefit of malvertising. Malicious actors can select who sees their malicious advertisements. Why? It seems to sense that corporations can segment the audience of their advertising using ad creation platforms like Facebook advertising or Google Ads, establishing specifics like gender, age, and place of residence, and only showing them to their intended audiences.

2. Taking Over Social Media Accounts and Faking Businesses

The aforementioned scenario highlights a crucial aspect of malvertising, particularly about social media platforms: the profiles that serve as the basis for phony advertisements.
Professionals in the field of cyber intelligence have observed a growing trend in recent years: the compromise of social media accounts. Stealing actual people's and companies' profiles to alter them and pass them to other companies is one of the goals of the crooks who engage in this activity. That's exactly what the offenders in the aforementioned case did.

3. A Variety of Virus Kinds and Progressively Intricate Attacks

Thus far, we have concentrated on the social engineering strategies that criminals employ to identify a potential point of attack. Once the deception is effective, malware enters the picture.
It becomes harder to identify malware that has infected a victim's device the more sophisticated it is.

4. Who Is Capable of Launching a Malvertising Website?

As we just mentioned, before the criminals can accomplish their nefarious objectives and profit from the attacks, malvertising attacks can escalate to a high degree of sophistication, necessitate a significant financial outlay, and take months to complete.

Does this imply that only criminal organizations possessing greater means, expertise, and experience can start malvertising campaigns? Regretfully, no. Due to the growth of the Phishing-as-a-Service and Malware-as-a-Service business models, hundreds of small-time criminals can now use malware and social engineering to carry out complex attacks, including malvertising campaigns.

5. What Are Some Ways to Stop Malvertising Attacks?

Let's shift our focus from the attackers to the businesses and individuals that malvertising affects:

  • Businesses that control search engines and social networks.
  • Businesses that use identity theft to perpetrate fraud.
  • Citizens or professionals employed by businesses may be the direct targets of malvertising attacks, and they are also the actual targets of criminal activity.

Malvertising, to put it briefly, is a dishonest practice that, regardless of its size, has the potential to seriously harm thousands of businesses, web search engines, and social media platforms. It is crucial to be aware of this method, which mixes malware and social engineering, to steal sensitive data and perpetrate fraud and scams against both businesses and individuals. To be safe and secure, use Norton 360 Standard, and never worry about malvertising again!