Mobile Advertising the Latest Vector for Malware

by Matt Klassen on March 12, 2014

It wasn’t long ago that visiting porn sites was the best way to contract an “electronically transmitted disease” on your smartphone, but whether it’s that our society’s love affair with mobile fantasy has dwindled or simply that flesh peddlers want to offer a better product, such is not the case anymore.

Now every one in five times a person is redirected to a malware site on the Internet using their smartphone, it’s because of a malicious mobile ad, a report released last week by Blue Coat discovered, a three fold jump from two years ago.

The key factor in malicious advertising, dubbed ‘malvertising,’ outpacing porn sites as the newest way to infect one’s mobile device is simply traffic, as it should come as no surprise to hear that mobile advertising targets a far broader audience than does porn, and if there’s one thing hackers know how to do well, its how to exploit the latest trends.

It always seemed to make sense to me that malware would be linked to pornography, that hackers would exploit our deepest and darkest desires, catching us at our most vulnerable or perhaps even at a moment of weakness, to infect us with something harmful. Further, it almost seemed to have a sense of karmic retribution to it, as if one should expect such a result when slinking around such dark corners of the Internet. It was a perfect strategy, expect perhaps for the breadth of its reach. But as I mentioned, times are changing, and hackers’ malware strategies are changing right along with it.

“We’re seeing a shift in mobile user behavior,” said Sasi Murthy, vice president of product marketing security at Blue Coat.

“We’re seeing an increase in recreational usage for mobile users around shopping and entertainment,” she told TechNewsWorld. “When we contrast that with the desktop world, recreational usage for mobile users is double.”

“Our friends in the cybercrime world are going to be focused on the same kinds of behaviors we are — but for different purposes — and set their strategies based on those behaviors,” she continued. “So it makes perfect sense from a cybercrime strategy to start to use a vector like malvertising.”

Further, given the exponential growth of mobile advertising the presence of such ads has simply become the norm for mobile users, with many then not showing the necessary discretion before clicking on an unknown link. Like with PCs decades ago, there simply isn’t the awareness that something that pops up during browsing or while we’re playing our favorite time waster could lead to such trouble, making it the perfect vector (at least for now) for malicious content.

“Malvertising is a very effective way to infect unsuspecting users with malware, because it can exploit browser vulnerabilities both known and unknown,” Dana Tamir, director of enterprise security at Trusteer, told TechNewsWorld.

In the end, while things like ad blockers can help mitigate the threat of such malvertising, the key to keeping safe in an unforgiving online world is the same, really, as its always been: don’t randomly surf, or click links, or open anything unfamiliar, particularly on a device that contains important content. Common sense, my friends, remains the order of the day.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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