Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

New Malware Can Launch Multiple Types Of Advertising Fraud

'Ad hijacking' leads to multiple exploits, Adometry researchers say

A new coordinated malware attack can enable cybercriminals to launch multiple types of online advertising fraud, according to researchers.

According to researchers at Adometry (formerly Click Forensics), the attack, called "ad hijacking," uses similar malware and infection delivery methods to create a network of computers aimed at committing advertising fraud through different kinds advertisements and channels.

"In the past, advertising fraudsters have mainly set their sights on the search advertising industry," said Paul Pellman, CEO of Adometry. "This is the first attack we’ve seen that coordinates advertising fraud across many different online ad channels." Rather than requiring a user to download malware via a fake antivirus program, Adometry says the ad hijacking malware injects itself into the rootkit of a user’s computer through an advertisement on a popular website. Once it infects the computer, the malware receives instructions from a host to perform multiple kinds of advertising fraud, including search hijacking, display advertising impression inflation, and video advertising fraud.

In some cases, the malware conducts "search hijacking," Adometry says. When a user enters an organic search term, the malware program redirects the browser through different ad networks and arbitrage companies. Visitors can end up on sites they had no intention of visiting, and advertisers pay for unintentional and invalid clicks.

In other cases, visitors can reach their intended destination after being rerouted through several arbitrage networks, resulting in advertisers paying for audiences they would otherwise have for free, Adometry says. In addition, the malware program can be instructed to auto-click on specific ads on certain publisher sites and networks -- even when a browser session is inactive.

The malware can also conduct "video ad fraud," in which it hijacks an organic search and redirects the user’s browser to a Web page that displays a video ad. The video plays and the advertiser is charged for the impression, which can command premiums of $30 to $50 per thousand impressions (CPM).

In addition, ad hijacking can be used to inflate display advertising impression figures, Adometry says. "Hidden in the background from the user, the malware can direct the computer’s browser to various publisher pages that show display ads in order to generate fraudulent ad impressions," the researchers say. "The user never sees these impressions, but advertisers pay full price for seemingly valid impressions because a 'real' visitor generated the traffic."

Adometry has been tracking the exploit since November. "While difficult to quantify, the frequency with which lab machines were infected indicates that tens or hundreds of thousands of computers are likely infected, generating millions of invalid clicks and advertising impressions per month," the researchers say. Most antivirus programs do not eradicate the infection, they note.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio


Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/6/2020
Ripple20 Threatens Increasingly Connected Medical Devices
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  6/30/2020
DDoS Attacks Jump 542% from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020
Dark Reading Staff 6/30/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
MobileIron Core and Connector before, 10.4.x before, 10.5.x before, 10.5.2.x before, and 10.6.x before, and Sentry before 9.7.3 and 9.8.x before 9.8.1, allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via unspecified vectors.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
MobileIron Core and Connector before, 10.4.x before, 10.5.x before, 10.5.2.x before, and 10.6.x before allow remote attackers to bypass authentication mechanisms via unspecified vectors.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
MobileIron Core and Connector before, 10.4.x before, 10.5.x before, 10.5.2.x before, and 10.6.x before allow remote attackers to read files on the system via unspecified vectors.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
In Electron before versions 6.1.1, 7.2.4, 8.2.4, and 9.0.0-beta21, there is a context isolation bypass, meaning that code running in the main world context in the renderer can reach into the isolated Electron context and perform privileged actions. Apps using "contextIsolation" are affecte...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
In Electron before versions 7.2.4, 8.2.4, and 9.0.0-beta21, arbitrary local file read is possible by defining unsafe window options on a child window opened via window.open. As a workaround, ensure you are calling `event.preventDefault()` on all new-window events where the `url` or `options` is not ...