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.

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