You’re telling me that ad was fake? Malvertising is sneakier than ever

Nyrmah J. Reina 3 Jul 2024

The quality of malicious ads has improved immensely, making it harder for users to distinguish between what’s real or fake.

Finding a space online that’s not rife with ads seems like an unlikely dreamunless you pay for it. And depending on the platform, you may think that the ads you see are legitimate. However, that may not be the case.

Bad actors may use legitimate online advertising networks to secretly smuggle harmful software. Our expert team at Avast reported a surge in malvertising on platforms like YouTube in the Avast Q1/2024 Threat Report.

A sneaky threat

Malvertising isn't new, but it's getting craftier. In the first quarter of 2024, Avast’s web scanning tools blocked a staggering number of harmful redirects from YouTube, showcasing a disturbing trend.

Cybercriminals use ads that look legitimate to hook and engage with people. They exploit YouTube’s massive audience to circulate phishing attempts, scam pages, and even disguised malware.

Emerging malvertising schemes

Here’s a roundup of the malvertising schemes we saw in the first quarter of 2024:

  • Phishing campaigns targeting creators: Bad actors start with a personalized charm offensive. They reach out to YouTube creators with what appears to be a lucrative collaboration offer. Once the trust is built, they send malware links disguised as necessary software for the collaboration.
  • Compromised video descriptions: Next, they upload videos with descriptions filled with malicious links, pretending these are related to game cheats or productivity tools, trapping the unwary.
  • Channel hijacking for cryptocurrency scams: Some go a step further by hijacking YouTube channels to promote crypto scams, usually involving fake giveaways that dupe viewers into making initial deposits.
  • Exploiting software brands: They create fake websites that mirror trusted companies offering downloadable malware-laden software, exploiting the users' trust.
  • Social engineering via video content: They post videos that guide users to download malware disguised as something helpful, leveraging YouTube’s vast recommendation engine to target victims more effectively.

The alarming rise of deepfake videos

The first quarter of 2024 also saw the rise of deepfake videos in malvertising, adding another layer of deceit. These videos manipulate audiovisual content so well that it becomes difficult to distinguish fake from real. They often misuse celebrities’ images or piggyback on significant events to weave more believable lies.

Tips to avoid malvertising schemes

  • Be skeptical. Don’t trust an ad just because it was showcased on a reputable website. Also, always question the legitimacy of unsolicited software downloads, even if they appear to come from a trusted source.
  • Use a reputable ad blocker. These can help you avoid malvertising by blocking ads from unknown sources.
  • Keep your software updated. Ensure your browsers and any installed plugins are always up to date to guard against known vulnerabilities.
  • Keep yourself and others informed. Awareness is your first line of defense. Learn about the common signs of malvertising threats and share this knowledge.
  • Use advanced cyber security solutions. Tools like Avast’s security solutions can block harmful ads and webpages in real-time, providing an essential safety net.

Don’t believe the ads

The web is teeming with innovative opportunities but also with equally innovative threats. Malvertising is a silent but dangerous presence in our online journeys. Stay informed, stay alert, and let’s keep our online experiences safe and enjoyable. Remember, when it comes to cyber safety, a little skepticism goes a long way.


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