Since its origins in the 1990s, the internet has been powered by ads. Google, in fact, generates over 70% of its total annual revenue from selling ads. While you’ll undoubtedly encounter ads when using the internet, however, you should be cautious of clicking and interacting with them. Even if an ad looks legitimate, it could be an attempt to trick you into downloading malware.

What Is Malvertising?

The term “malvertising” refers to the use of online ads to serve and deploy malware onto victims’ computers. Since all major ad networks prohibit advertisers from promoting malware, it’s typically performed via code injection. A nefarious advertiser will inject malicious code into an ad network or web page. Therefore, rather than promoting a legitimate business — or a business’s legitimate product or service — the ad will promote malware.

The Dangers of Malvertising

Malvertising is a concern because it can result in a malware infection. Whether you’re using Google, Bing, Facebook or any other high-traffic website, you’ll probably see ads. Many of these online ads are even designed to blend into the surrounding content, meaning you may not be able to distinguish them from other types of digital content. And if you happen to click one of these malvertising-related ads, it could spell disaster for your identity as well as your data. Malvertising is a way for nefarious advertisers to trick you into downloading their malware.

Some nefarious advertisers use malvertising to steal the identities of their victims. They serve keylogger or other data-snooping malware that collects the personal information of their victims. Alternatively, other nefarious advertisers use malvertising to deploy ransomware. Ransomware is a distributing form of malware that locks your data while demanding a payment.

Tips to Protect Against Malvertising

While you can’t prevent nefarious advertisers from using malvertising to promote their malware, there are ways to minimize your risk of becoming a victim. Running anti-virus software, for instance, may identify malvertising-related ads. Assuming your anti-virus software protects against online threats, it may detect or even block these malicious ads.

You can also use an ad blocker to lower your risk of being struck with malvertising-related ads. Ad blockers work by disabling all ads from commonly used ad networks. They aren’t biased towards any particular type of online ad. Rather, they’ll block all ads served from the ad networks used in their database. With an ad blocker, however, both legitimate ads and malvertising-related ads will be removed.