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Malvertising: What It Is and How to Stay Safe

by Mic Johnson

Hackers and fraudsters try every trick in the book to steal user data, and one of the weapons in their arsenal is malvertising. Delivering malware using online ads is a sneaky ploy to infect phones or computers with viruses and malicious programs. However, the use of appropriate tools can help you shield against malicious online ads. In this article, we shall dive deeper into the world of malvertising and learn about the sophisticated cybersecurity tools to prevent attacks through online ads.

What is Malvertising?

When cybercriminals use online advertising to install and spread malware into your computer, it’s called malvertising. The process involves injecting malicious ads into legitimate advertising networks displaying ads on websites of reputable organizations. What’s worrisome is that these malicious ads infect your computer with malware even if you don’t click on them. The latter is called a drive-by download, which means that the infection spreads with little to no user participation.

How Does Malvertising Work?

You can end up a victim of malvertising even if you just visit the website where the corrupt ad has been displayed. As mentioned before, it is referred to as a drive-by download where an infected ad can infect your device only by finishing its loading when you are on the website.

Here’s how cybercriminals use the complex online advertising mechanism to inject malware. They buy advertising space from advertising networks which they use to submit images infected with malicious code. These ads are run on legitimate sites, and the cybercriminal’s job is done when you unsuspectingly either click on them or simply allow them to load to infect your computer.

How Does Malvertising Differ From Adware?

As both attacks through ads, malvertising and adware are often confused. There’s a big difference. Malvertising attacks your computer from ads appearing on legitimate websites of reputed companies like MSN or Yahoo. On the other hand, adware is malicious software that finds its way into your computer when you are downloading something else.

Malvertising Campaign on Google Launched as AnyDesk Installer

Cybersecurity experts recently shared the details of a cunning malvertising campaign that imitated AnyDesk. Ads involved in the malicious campaign managed to rank higher than the legitimate promotional content. If users were to click on the ad and download software from the fake page, they would receive a rogue version of AnyDesk. The page itself was a copy of the legitimate AnyDesk website. Thus, there might have been very few warning signs suggesting that the ad and the site are fraudulent. As noted by researchers, this malvertising technique was very clever as it leaves no room for doubt as users tend to trust Google search results.

How Should You Protect Yourself from Malvertising?

The key is to stay cautious and take a few steps to keep yourself protected.

  • Install an anti-virus program. A very effective strategy to protect yourself from malvertising is to install a trusted anti-virus program. After installing the anti-virus software, don’t ignore any of the update alerts that appear. You need to update diligently. As these updates are often designed to effectively protect from emerging threats, ignoring them leaves you insufficiently equipped against specific forms of malware like malvertising.
  • Install an Ad Blocker. You won’t be clicking on any malicious ad if it doesn’t appear on your screen at all. Installing an ad blocker, some of which are free, keeps your webpages free of ads. As a result, it might prevent malvertising ads from popping up. We should tell you here that some websites don’t work well enough if an ad blocker is installed. You can, fortunately, program your ad blocker into allowing some sites to show online ads.
  • Install Virtual Private Network. A VPN is known to protect your data and web activities. However, tools like Atlas VPN take a step further by offering protection from malicious websites and ads. Thus, a VPN can also protect you from ads involved in malvertising that hope to infect users or trick them into revealing their private data.


Malvertising is a serious cybersecurity threat as your computer can be infected even after visiting legitimate websites. Exercising caution at all times is the best way to protect yourself. Even Google has not been spared; the threat is very real and grave. Staying updated about the latest cybersecurity threats and tools is the only way to protect against malvertising.

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