Malware warnings – Yahoo! (Photo credit: Channy Yun)

Hot on the heels of voicing our concerns over Popcorn Time malware last week, a U.S. Senate report announced that malvertising – malware delivered via online ads – needs to be a priority concern for companies like Google and Yahoo.

The scope and sophistication of malvertising scams  has grown far beyond the poorly spelled, easy-to-spot phishing sites of old.

Nowadays, advises the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, are subject to “attacks [through online ads] without having taken any action.”

It cites major breaches of ads delivered through mainstream networks from the companies above as a prime concern for technology companies and federal regulators in the months and years to come.


Good Ads Gone Bad

As a recent report on advertising and content theft sites highlighted, malware and suspect ads go hand in hand.

They’re aided by respectable brands – usually unwittingly, due to the complexity and middle men involved in delivering ads online – whose adverts can validate the legitimacy of a site in the minds of the user.

The comparison would be to a major global brand name paying into a general pot to appear in x number of tv spots on y number of channels, only to have their expensive, high-production value commercials appear on a late night cable TV gambling or pornography channel. While that would never be tolerated on traditional broadcast advertisements, the online environment is relatively new and infinitely more fragmented.

Rather than untangle the digital knots of these many new advertising wires, even the biggest brands throw good ad money into the online pot and accept the vast impressions metrics that flow back in their monthly reports.

Unfortunately this can end up supporting not only malware sites, but consumer privacy invasions, content piracy, and irreparable damage to the brands that become associated with them.


Wider Privacy Concerns

Seal of the United States Federal Trade Commis...

Seal of the United States Federal Trade Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The report also mentions the wider concern around unclear information submission and the rampant trend towards identity theft.

Such theft topped the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) complaint list again in 2012, accounting for 18% of more than 2 million issues raised with the U.S. consumer protection agency. Senators call again for increased protection and comprehensive regulations for online advertising networks, which is taking more of the overall advertising spend every year but still has something of a Wild West feel for consumers navigating between different sites.

As identity thieves become more sophisticated in their techniques, advertisers and especially tech companies who serve their ads, must rise to the challenge of better protection. Big names like Facebook and Google have recently moved with the Trust In Ads initiative, although this addresses only a narrow section of the problem.

More initiatives like this are needed and soon. On their own, consumers can only take so much preventive action against such a sophisticated and increasingly adaptive online threat.


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