• Adware bypasses publisher web pages and targets users directly.
  • Malvertising exploits trust in online ads to distribute harmful code or deceive users.

In today’s hyper-connected digital realm, advertising flexes its muscles as a prime mover for boosting brands and revenue. Nevertheless, this arena harbors a malevolent element referred to as malvertisement. While advertising endeavors to educate and captivate, malvertising exploits the gaps to unleash its payload of mischief.

Amid the rise of online advertising, grasping how malvertising works is vital to shield digital domains from its subtle yet perilous dangers.

According to Statista, malvertising is projected to surge by 35% to 50% in 2023, starkly contrasting the expected 3.3% growth in traditional advertising.

The essence of malvertising lies in the concept of ‘malicious advertising,’ representing the devious tactics cybercriminals employ to leverage online advertising platforms for disseminating malware or malicious software.

What Is Malvertising?

It refers to the strategic utilization of online advertisements to disseminate malware, install harmful software, or redirect network traffic.

The objective of malvertising is to capitalize on users’ trust in reputable online advertising networks and platforms, using it as a means to distribute harmful code or deceive users into unintended actions, like visiting malicious websites.

This offers cybercriminals substantial profitability, primarily because of its difficult traceability and capacity to remain unnoticed.

Understanding the concept of malvertising paves the way for a comprehensive exploration of how this malicious technique operates in our step-by-step guide.

A Step-by-Step Guide To How Does Malvertising Work?

Unraveling the intricacies of malvertising starts with injecting malicious code into seemingly legitimate advertisements and extends to its far-reaching consequences. This underscores the need to comprehend such tactics and prioritize robust cybersecurity solutions for effective mitigation.

Here are the steps that tell how malvertising works:

Ad creation: Cybercriminals fabricate advertisements that appear legitimate or exploit established ad networks.

Malvertising attack: The attacker initiates the process by compromising a third-party server. This breach grants cybercriminals the ability to insert malevolent code into a display advertisement or its components, including banner ad text, creative visuals, or video content.

Ad placement: Often, advertisers unknowingly approve malicious malvertisements, assuming they are safe. Once approved, these ads are sent to seemingly harmless websites through a server.

User interaction and malicious code activation: Upon a user’s interaction with the malvertisement, a background process is triggered, initiating the potential download of malware onto the user’s computer. This phenomenon is commonly termed as a “drive-by download.”

(A “drive-by download” occurs when the infected ad employs a concealed webpage element to execute its functions without requiring ad interaction or clicks to activate malicious actions.)

Infections and consequences: It can cause file damage, redirect online traffic, observe user activities, pilfer confidential information, or set up backdoor access points to the system.

In conclusion, this elucidates how malvertisement works. Given malvertisers’ dynamic approach, maintaining vigilance and readiness becomes pivotal in addressing the risks presented by these stealthy digital adversaries.

After gaining insights into how malvertising operates, let’s turn our attention to practical methods for effectively identifying it.

6 Effective Methods to Identify Malvertisement

These six methods are vital for detecting advertisements in the fast-changing digital advertising realm. This toolkit safeguards users and businesses from online Malvertisements:

  • Unprofessional or sloppy ads.
  • Ads with unbelievably enticing claims.
  • Ads with unrealistic pledges, like miraculous cures.
  • Ads covering celebrity controversies.
  • Ads with spelling errors.
  • Ads not matching recent searches.

As we delve into effective techniques for identifying advertisements, we must differentiate between malvertising and ad malware to bolster our understanding of these digital threats.

Ad Malware vs. Malvertising: Unmasking the Webs Hidden Threats 

Recognizing the differences between malvertising and ad malware is vital. It ensures a holistic strategy for protecting digital spaces from these complex and evolving threats, benefiting individuals and businesses alike.

Malvertising Ad Malware
Malvertising advertisements are hosted on authorized websites. Adware, a form of malware, displays additional ads on your device.
Every malvertising example exhibits malevolent intentions. Certain types of adware are integrated into valid software bundles.
Malvertisement affects solely those who visit a compromised webpage. Once installed, adware operates persistently on a user’s computer.
Malvertising involves the injection of harmful code onto a publisher’s webpage strategically aimed at individual users. Adware targets users directly, bypassing publisher web pages.
Some malvertising works automatically, exploiting vulnerabilities or using drive-by downloads. Ad malware often needs user interaction, like clicking a harmful link or downloading a malicious file.

Having gained a comprehensive understanding of the disparities between malvertising and ad malware, let’s now examine the tangible consequences of malicious advertisements on publishers and internet users to enrich our knowledge.

Malvertisement Impact On Publishers

Malvertisements impose a multifaceted challenge on publishers, affecting user trust, revenue, brand reputation, and operational efficiency.

Let’s have a detailed look into the challenges:

  • Hosting malicious ads can harm a publisher’s reputation by linking them to harmful content, leading to trust and credibility erosion.
  • The publisher’s operations are strained due to the additional resources needed for monitoring, removing, and ensuring cybersecurity measures when dealing with malvertisements.
  • Publishers acknowledge the issue but face difficulties in monitoring or blocking malicious ads. It’s a significant challenge to screen every ad displayed to users, as ad networks source ads from a multitude of advertisers and display them dynamically through real-time bidding.
  • Malvertising cases can lower user engagement, reduce website traffic, and decrease ad impressions, ultimately impacting the publisher’s revenue.
  • These incidents can harm relationships with advertisers, as brands and networks tend to steer clear of publishers associated with malware distribution.

Malvertisement Impact On Web Users

Malvertisements have a pronounced impact on users, leading to a gamut of adverse outcomes. Initially, it can infiltrate users’ devices with malware—viruses, ransomware, or spyware—via interactions with a malevolent ad.

Additionally, it often reroutes users to deceptive websites or phishing pages, aiming to rob login credentials, credit card specifics, or other personal data.

Finally, encountering malvertisements has the potential to erode users’ trust in online advertising and websites, sowing seeds of doubt in the credibility of these digital platforms.


To sum up, malvertising highlights the escalating cybersecurity complexities in the digital domain. Fusing malicious motives with the far-reaching influence of online ads unveils susceptibilities that affect individuals and businesses. To effectively tackle this issue, it’s imperative to comprehend how malvertising works.

Businesses must take proactive steps to defend operations and clients from malvertisement risks. This includes enhancing security protocols for ad network scrutiny. Collaboration with cybersecurity experts, advertisers, and regulators is vital to establish industry safety standards.

Dive deeper into the world of security with our collection of security-related whitepapers.