There’s more bad news when it comes to malware: According to RiskIQ’s “2016 Malvertising Report,” the volume of attacks involving malware-infected advertisements increased by 132 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year.

Breaking Down the Malvertising Network

This particular malware delivery system has several distinct characteristics. One of the most vexing, at least from a security standpoint, is that infected images are not typically stored on a particular server or easily identifiable domain name.

Generally, an automated system delivers a poisoned advertisement to a website. The ad lives on a separate network, and the automated insertion system serves to hide its origin from most simple detection methods.

Such an automated system can also make malware more efficient by delivering the attack only to a defined subset of users. It can select, through the insertion process, which users will see the ad in the first place. This way, the malware author can choose targets that best fit the victim profiling parameters.

The Rise of Ad-Blocking Software

In any case, users have responded to the threat of malvertising and the prevalence of online ads by downloading ad-blocking software at an increasing rate. In 2017, the report predicted, 86.6 million U.S. users will employ ad-blocking tools. This would be a 24 percent increase over the 69.8 million people currently leveraging such software.

This could complicate the paid digital media market, which is growing worldwide as advertisers seek to connect with consumers shifting to online media. If the rise of malvertising leads to a sharp increase in ad-blocker usage, it may limit the number of consumers paid media firms are able to reach in 2017 — and force cybercriminals to find a new avenue for attacks.

Protecting the Lifeblood of the Internet

“Malvertising is so nefarious because it’s a direct attack on the lifeblood of the internet as we know it,” said RiskIQ researcher James Pleger. “Digital media marketing is what funds the ‘free’ websites we all know and enjoy online.”

Paid insertion networks may soon be forced to upgrade their detection capabilities for malvertising, if only to slow the rise of ad-blocking software. But cybercriminals won’t be far behind, and users must remain skeptical about online ads.

More from

The White House on Quantum Encryption and IoT Labels

A recent White House Fact Sheet outlined the current and future U.S. cybersecurity priorities. While most of the topics covered were in line with expectations, others drew more attention. The emphasis on critical infrastructure protection is clearly a top national priority. However, the plan is to create a labeling system for IoT devices, identifying the ones with the highest cybersecurity standards. Few expected that news. The topic of quantum-resistant encryption reveals that such concerns may become a reality sooner than…

Contain Breaches and Gain Visibility With Microsegmentation

Organizations must grapple with challenges from various market forces. Digital transformation, cloud adoption, hybrid work environments and geopolitical and economic challenges all have a part to play. These forces have especially manifested in more significant security threats to expanding IT attack surfaces. Breach containment is essential, and zero trust security principles can be applied to curtail attacks across IT environments, minimizing business disruption proactively. Microsegmentation has emerged as a viable solution through its continuous visualization of workload and device communications…

CEO, CIO or CFO: Who Should Your CISO Report To?

As we move deeper into a digitally dependent future, the growing concern of data breaches and other cyber threats has led to the rise of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). This position is essential in almost every company that relies on digital information. They are responsible for developing and implementing strategies to harden the organization's defenses against cyberattacks. However, while many organizations don't question the value of a CISO, there should be more debate over who this important role…

Malware-as-a-Service Flaunts Its Tally of Users and Victims

As time passes, the security landscape keeps getting stranger and scarier. How long did the “not if, but when” mentality towards cyberattacks last — a few years, maybe? Now, security pros think in terms of how often will their organization be attacked and at what cost. Or they consider how the difference between legitimate Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) brands and Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) gangs keeps getting blurrier. MaaS operators provide web-based services, slick UX, tiered subscriptions, newsletters and Telegram channels that keep users…