Malvertising and Microsoft’s Struggle to Stop It

In the world of privacy and security over the Internet, the bad guys simply won’t leave us alone.  The latest in the parade of mischievous plots is called “malvertising.”  Malvertising is the term often applied to the insidious practice of hiding viruses or other dangerous codes inside what looks like a popular ad platform or pop-up.  Thousands of unsuspecting users have found their systems damaged by this new tactic, and Microsoft is facing steep odds to take action against it.

Tim Cranton Leads Microsoft in the Fight Against Malicious Advertising

The word “malvertising” is being brought into public awareness by Tim Cranton, Associate General Counsel for Microsoft Corporation.  Under his supervision, Microsoft has filed five civil lawsuits against businesses that have transmitted viruses, worms, or other damaging programming through online advertising.  The aim, of course, is to hold the culprits accountable for their mischief.  Unfortunately, no one seems to know what businesses or individuals are at the heart of the malvertising outbreak.

Why is the quest against malvertising so important?  “Online advertising helps keep the Internet up and running,” Cranton answers.  “Fraud and malicious use of online ad platforms are therefore a serious threat to the industry and for all consumers and businesses.”

The lawsuits filed by Microsoft are aimed at businesses with such nebulous titles as “ote2008.info” and “Soft Solutions,” among others.  The stakes are high, and the danger heightening.  Recently a bogus ad appeared on the website for The New York Times, in which the computer user was peppered with pop-up boxes allegedly identifying a virus and providing a link to the software that would eradicate it.  Following that link may have opened hundreds of computers to an actual virus, that wasn’t present when the “warning pop-up” originally appeared.

Why Fight Malvertising?

The struggle against malicious online ads has proven to be quite a challenge.  In many cases, as with a new case filed by Microsoft, it isn’t at all clear where the source of the malvertising is, making it impossible to seek an indictment and stop the malicious advertising from polluting the Web.  Malvertising is thought to be a multibillion dollar industry, which makes effective prosecution not only difficult but costly.

Even knowing the culprit does not always help.  Last year Microsoft sued a company in Texas over this issue, but the lawsuit was unable to resolve the problem by virtue of its being so widespread.  Cranton is undeterred.  As he declares, “Although we don’t yet know the names of the specific individuals behind these acts, we are filing these cases to help uncover the people responsible and prevent them from continuing their exploits.”

The best way, then, for the average computer user to protect against malvertising, is to make sure the computer’s virus programs are updated and running smoothly.  Leave Web-based pop-up windows alone, no matter how dire the warnings are.  And unless you are completely confident in the security of the transmission, never provide any personal information on any website.  Play it safe, and safe you will stay.

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