Have you ever come across an online ad that seemed too good to be true or made unrealistic promises? Chances are you encountered a malvertisement: a malicious advertisement designed to deceive and harm you. Malvertising is a cyberattack that employs fake or compromised ads to entice clicks, leading to malware infections or phishing attempts that can compromise your device, steal personal data or extort money from you.

Malvertising isn't new, but it's grown more widespread and sophisticated in recent years. According to security firm Confiant,1 malvertising surged by 69% in 2020, affecting 1 in every 100 ad impressions. Even trusted websites and services have fallen victim to malvertising campaigns.

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How can you protect yourself from fake ads online?

Here are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Check the URL: Before clicking on any ad, hover your mouse over it and inspect the URL that appears at the bottom of your browser. If the URL looks suspicious with misspellings, random numbers or unfamiliar domains, steer clear. For example, if you see an ad for Amazon.com, but the URL is something like amaz0n.co.uk, it's probably a malvertisement.
  • Use an ad blocker: Ad blockers, available as software or browser extensions, can prevent unwanted ads from loading on websites. They are effective at thwarting malvertising. However, some sites may request that you disable your ad blocker, which you should do only if you trust the website and its ads.
  • Keep software updated: Ensure that your browser and antivirus software are up to date. They can detect and block malicious ads or provide warnings before visiting a risky site. Enable the pop-up blocker feature in your browser settings to stop unwanted pop-ups.
  • Report suspicious ads: If you encounter a malvertisement, report it to the website owner or the ad network responsible. Reporting can lead to the removal of the fake ad and can protect others from falling victim. U.S. authorities such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) also accept reports of malvertising.¬†

Malvertising is a serious online threat, affecting internet users across the board. By following these tips, you can identify and sidestep fake ads online, safeguarding your devices and personal information from harm.