Here’s a basic Internet surfing rule of thumb: “To avoid being infected with a virus or malware, stay away from shady websites.” Good advice. Okay, now imagine this… you navigate to a very reputable website, say The New York Times, PCWorld, or in this case the London Stock Exchange.
You’re merely viewing the home page when you’re computer is infected by a classic spoof antivirus program which used a software vulnerability to download and install locally executable code. This “drive-by” malware then displays an icon in the system tray and prevents other processes such as Task Manager from being run, falsely claiming that those processes were infected with a virus. The malware then tries to extort payment to fix the artificial problem it had created. It also replaces your wallpaper image with this (yikes!):
So what just happened? Well, obviously your computer has been compromised by malware – what’s a bit more insidious is that it was delivered by fraudulent ads hosted on a reputable website — called Malvertising!
Wait, how did that happen? Don’t companies with established websites handle their own advertising campaigns, or at least verify the integrity of the ads they’re posting? The short answer is no. Mainstream, highly-trafficked websites actually outsource their ad content to a substantial array of third-party ad networks (think Google’s Sponsored Links ad program). Major online advertising players like this are well under the radar. The cyber hoodlums have become very clever at exploiting online advertising networks, tricking them into distributing ads that effectively load malicious content. Some of the more frequent flavors are those with ghastly, scaremongering pop-ups for rogue antispyware products.
Don’t be fooled and be careful. Use up-to-date anti-virus software, browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox (which both make use of Google’s malware blocklist ). Remember that most trustworthy websites have ad sales departments that work frequently with large advertisers, so it’s probably safe to click a Microsoft ad on the New York Times site. But as the London Stock Exchange incident shows, nothing is entirely fail-safe.
And finally, it is always better to get this…
… than this:
Safe surfing to all. And if you need help be sure to give us a call!