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Malvertising Jumped 132% in 2016: Report

Malvertising experienced a 132% growth rate over 2015 levels, with a total of 7,623,099 malicious ads detected throughout the year, a RiskIQ report reveals.

One of the factors fueling the increase, the security firm’s 2016 Malvertising Recap report reveals, was the rise of programmatic advertising, which provides sophisticated profiling capabilities that threat actors can abuse to target precise groups of users with their malicous ads.

The highly targeted nature of malvertising results in a big return on investment but also in a slowdown in the growth of digital advertising revenue, because more and more users try to protect themselves from malvertising by using ad blockers, the report says.

In 2017, 86.6 million Americans are expected to use an ad blocker, a 24% increase over the 69.8 million people who supposedly did so last year (2016 marked a 34.4% increase over 2015, RiskIQ says).

A report compiled by eMarketer has already revealed that the worldwide paid media market has recently hit more than half a trillion dollars. Because it is accelerating every year, the market is expected to reach $674 million by 2020, the report says.

“Malvertising as a digital threat is particularly effective as it’s difficult to detect and take down malicious ads because they are delivered through ad networks such as Google and Facebook and not resident on web pages. Threat actors use malvertising to propagate malware, ransomware, and scams (disingenuous advertising), as well as redirect victims to phishing pages and pages hosting exploit kits,” RiskIQ reveals.

Looking at the type of malvertisements recorded last year, RiskIQ reveals that redirects to phishing pages saw the largest increase compared to 2015: 828,402 incidents versus 39,848, for a 1,978.9% increase. Scams (disingenuous ads) also registered a massive growth, though of only 845.9% (4,619,794 in 2016 versus 488,416 in 2015).

Fake software ads rose 69.9%, scareware/browser lockers saw a 58.1% increase, malicious injects registered a 25.8% increase, and antivirus binary detections went up by 22%, while traffic distribution systems registered a 1.9% growth. Third party detections, on the other hand, went down 14% last year, the report reveals.

RiskIQ says it scans over 2 billion pages and nearly 20 million mobile apps per day for malicious ads, and each of the discovered ones is added to a blacklist that helps the company mitigate this risk for digital advertisers and publishers. The list also allows ad ops, brand managers, and security staff vet new demand sources and prevent malware within their ad infrastructure.

The blacklist, the company explains, is curated in such a way that all individual incidents associated with an ad are counted as a single instance of malvertising. For that, every incident is linked to an ad sequence and categorized. For the total number of malvertising incidents, the company pulled landing page submissions (a single ad markup submission) that resulted in any number of blacklist incidents.

“Malvertising is so nefarious because it’s a direct attack on the lifeblood of the internet as we know it. Digital media marketing is what funds the ‘free’ websites we all know and enjoy online. The success of the internet and all the people that rely on it is inextricably linked to online advertising success and safety. Publishers, ad platforms, and ad operations teams need active visibility, forensic information, and mitigation capability to enable them to effectively detect and respond to malicious ads in the wild,” James Pleger, threat researcher RiskIQ, said.

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