Miscellaneous 4 min. read

Malvertising: The Biggest Threat to Mobile Security

Every time you use your mobile device to access the Internet, millions upon millions of invisible threads connect your device with the cyberverse.

While the Internet is an invaluable tool, it is also a breeding ground for every kind of digital threat, and those threats constantly evolve. Take malvertising, for example; according to experts, it recently surpassed pornography as the largest threat to mobile security. So what exactly is malvertising, and how does it threaten your device’s security?

Malvertising: The Worst of Two Worlds

The terms “malvertising” and “malverts” are combined words, merging “malware” and “advertising.” Few people will admit to being fond of advertisements, and even fewer like malware, so when ads carrying malicious codes invade cyberspace, it isn’t good for anyone.

Malverts are a threat to desktop security because they can show up even on reputable sources like Yahoo and the New York Times website. However, the dangers increase with mobile usage (particularly with Android devices), because people are so liberal about downloading and using apps. That annoying flashing advertisement at the bottom of your new favorite game might just be the face of something much darker.

The Startling Statistics

Pornography once held the crown of the malware world, but a recent study found that advertisements now rank at the top. In fact, as pointed out by The Telegraph, “During February 2014, one in every five times a mobile internet user is directed to malware, it was through Web adverts – three times the rate of November 2012.” By contrast, pornography accounts for only about 16 percent of user exposure to malware.

As if that isn’t convincing enough, take a look at projected job growth for careers in cyber security. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 37 percent growth in the field in coming years, a pace that leaves many other job fields in the dust. Malvertising is a significant catalyst that’s driving the demand for tech-savvy defenders of Internet-enabled devices everywhere.

Malvertising’s Weapons

Malvertising is really a not-so-new face to a much older threat. If malware sneaks into your system via advertisements, you face the same dangers as if it made its way in via other means. Malware can steal important information like credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal data. It can record your Internet surfing data, direct you to phishing websites, and flood your time on the Internet with irritating pop-ups.

Bad guys can use malware to carry out a host of nasty tasks. Malverts found on Yahoo’s ad network took over user devices and covertly used them for bitcoin mining. Because the mining process takes a lot of processing power, it can slow a device’s other functions to a virtual halt.

Yahoo, Microsoft, and other companies who provide major ad platforms fight to give consumers a safe advertising experience, but as an expert quoted on The Inquirer brings out, “For an ad platform it is virtually impossible to guarantee 100 percent malware free ads.”

A Quiet Problem

“Malvertising” isn’t exactly a big buzzword when it comes to Internet and mobile security. In fact, the problem is often ignored by mobile consumers. Because they hear so much about the need to protect their computers against cyber threats, they often forget about the need to guard their mobile devices. Some people may forget altogether about the need for security because they rely solely on their mobile devices for Internet access.

However, the need to protect mobile devices is just as great — if not greater — than the need to protect desktop computers. Have you ever been a victim of fumbling finger syndrome and accidentally opened a link on your mobile device that you had every intention of ignoring? One stray finger movement can expose your device to a multitude of headache-inducing issues.

Protecting Your Device

The malware that can sneak in via advertisements is growing ever more advanced and dangerous. Statistics show that new kinds of malware are emerging at a startling rate; one study by McAfee Labs Research shows that, in only one quarter of 2012, the number of new malware samples found increased by 35 percent. Numbers like that underscore the need for every mobile device owner to take measures to boost their Internet security.

Android Devices

The debate of Android versus Apple is a complicated and opinionated phenomenon, but some facts allow no arguments. Findings by the United States government show that 79 percent of mobile malware targets Android devices, whereas only 0.7 percent of mobile malware affects iOS devices. Before all you Android users throw your hands up in despair, though, remember that engaging in smart practices can serve as a defense against the statistics. Make sure you:

  • Scrutinize any app before you download it. Read the reviews. If you’re unsure whether an app is legit, skip it and try to find an alternative. Apply the same sort of caution to advertisements on websites.
  • By default, most Android devices have Google’s malware scanner activated. Make sure it remains so on your device.
  • Promptly install any available software updates.

iOS Devices

A slim chance is still a chance, which means that you iOS users don’t have license to assume that you’re free from the possibility of a malvertising attack. To protect your iOS device from malware, steer clear of suspicious ads and keep things updated. Also consider using a browser other than Safari, which is the default browser for iOS devices. Some browsers offer extra malware protection.

General Safety Precautions

No matter what device you have, some of the same rules apply when it comes to safeguarding your device. To battle malvertising:

  • Install a protection suite that gives comprehensive defense against mobile threats.
  • Keep an eye on the battery indicator. If your device loses power too quickly, it could point to a bigger problem.
  • Exercise caution when using public Wi-Fi. Using a VPN service can prevent hackers from peaking in on your browsing. Knowing what you’re looking at can give bad guys the information they need to craft more effective malverts.

It is true that talented marketers can provide endless entertainment with eye-catching visuals, and clever slogans. Cyber criminals can do the same thing, and they are looking to do more than sell you the latest and greatest can’t-live-without-it item.

As malvertising becomes more and more of an issue, the ways to defend against it are sure to grow more sophisticated. Keeping abreast of such developments can arm you with the information you need to protect your mobile device.

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