Cybercriminals turn to video ads to plant malware

The complex code behind video ads makes it harder to detect malware

Cybercriminals have been delivering malware through online display ads for years, but they appear to be making headway with a new distribution method: video advertisements.

Both methods of attack, known as malvertising, can have a broad impact and are a major headache for the ad industry. A single malicious advertisement, distributed to several highly trafficked sites, can expose tens of thousands of computers to malware in a short time.

Some ad networks and publishers have taken steps to vet their ads more thoroughly, but criminals are constantly on the lookout for weaknesses.

An attack detected about two weeks ago shows how cybercriminals are showing more interest in creating malicious video ads.

Attacks using video ads have been seen before, but this one was notable for the websites it affected, including several of the most-trafficked as ranked by Alexa.

The incident was written up earlier this month by The Media Trust, a company that's developed security tools and services for detecting malvertising.

For about 12 hours starting late on Oct. 29, some 3,000 websites served up the malicious video ad, which displayed a pop-up window nicknamed "Tripbox."

The window warned that an update was needed for browser software like Apple's Safari, and if people followed the instructions, a backdoor was downloaded to their computer.

tripbox malvertising 2 The Media Trust

How a large video malvertising campaign attacked users according to The Media Trust.

Video ads are an attractive target for hackers because they're much harder than display ads to vet for quality, said Chris Olson, co-founder and CEO of The Media Trust.

These days, video ads are often delivered using the Digital Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), a JavaScript-like wrapper. But many elements, such as tracking tags, can be stuffed into the template, turning it into a big digital sandwich.

"It's cumbersome," Olson said. "It's pieces of code running inside of a template, which is basically a container of code."

The upshot is that it's that harder to ensure that bad things aren't lurking within, and that's not lost on the bad guys, Olson said.

Video ads have been more expensive to buy than display ads, which has helped keep criminals away. They want to infect as many computers as possible, but they still have to pay for the impressions. But prices are dropping, making video a more attractive vehicle.

In the incident two weeks ago, the malicious content came from a domain called brtmedia[.]net. It was unclear if that domain is connected with BRT Media, which appears to be an online advertising company. Officials there could not immediately be reached via email.

Olson said it is difficult to estimate how many computers may have been exposed to the malicious ad. But it highlights what could be an emerging problem as video becomes more pervasive.

"It means that companies serving video ads and publishers that monetize via video ads need to be paying attention to the video channel just like they would with display advertising or other third-party code that they run on their sites," Olson said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?