Targeted ads have become a part of life that we just seemingly have to live with. On one hand, they can actually be a good thing, providing advertisements for products that we may have some interest in. On the other hand, they can give you that eerie feeling of always being followed.
Advertisements giving you that creepy feeling isn't the worst thing they can do these days. Now, there are ads popping up that can automatically install malware onto your gadget.
That's why you need to know how malicious ads are spread and what you can do to stay protected.
How hackers spread malicious ads
Malicious ads are nothing new, but after a few years of dealing with them, most ad networks are pretty good at blocking the obvious ones. The hackers behind recent attacks came up with an interesting new twist, though.
According to security firm Trustwave, the hackers found the domains of legitimate online marketing companies that had just expired and bought them. They used those domains to appear as valid businesses and purchase ad space on a huge number of ad networks, including Google's DoubleClick, Adnxs, Rubicon, AOL, AppNexus and Taggify.
Even sneakier, the ads had code that prevented them from attacking computers that had certain security research tools and security programs installed. That kept the security community from picking up on the attack right away and alerting the ad networks.
How ads attack
As we said, when a user clicks on malicious ads they get sent to a site that attacks their computer looking for weak spots. Those weak spots are ones that we regularly warn you about, including out-of-date browsers and old versions of Adobe Flash, Java, Silverlight and other browser plug-ins.
The attack would also be more successful if the computer's operating system wasn't updated and there was no security software installed. Unfortunately, that describes far too many computers, but it does show you some easy ways to protect your own computer.
How to protect yourself
One key way to protect yourself from this kind of attack is to keep your browser and your computer's operating system updated with the latest patches. This leaves fewer security holes for hackers to break through.
You should also update any browser plug-ins you use, such as Adobe Flash or Java. Even better, uninstall these plug-ins or set them to only run when you allow it. Get more details on that and other ways to make your browser hacker-proof.
If an attack makes it through your browser, you want to make sure it doesn't get much farther. Switching your Windows account from an administrator account to a standard account keeps most viruses from installing and immediately eliminates 86 percent of the threats out there. Learn how to make that switch and other Windows account security tips you need to know.
Of course, there are still attacks that can get around your browser and your Windows settings, which is why you need strong security software installed. This can detect attacks and block them before they get very far.
Since ransomware has become the number one digital threat in the world, you also need to backup your critical files. Backing up your critical data is an important safety precaution in the fight against ransomware. It's the best way to recover your files without paying a ransom.
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