When it comes to online security, anything a computer downloads can be used as weapon.
Major sites like The New York Times, BBC, and the NFL got a taste of that lesson this weekend, after their advertising platforms were compromised into sending malware to their readers, according to the security blog of Malwarebytes.
News sites are a popular target for malicious attacks. Even Popular Science came under attack in 2014 from those who wish to distribute malware. (Although we’re free and clear now!)
The practice, called malvertising, redirects users to a server where it downloads the malware, unknown to the user. Then the malware finds access to the computer and encrypts files, demanding payment. If the user pays, the hackers allegedly sends the key to decrypt the files. Whether they send the key or not is completely up to the hacker, it’s a classic ransom situation.
Ransomware is not a new form of attack, but the scale of this distribution is massive, potentially reaching billions of readers. MSN alone has 1.3 billion monthly readers, according to SimilarWeb.com.
This was possible because lots of major sites rely on advertising networks to target ads towards their users. Google, one of the largest ad networks, was used to deliver this malware, along with others like AOL and Rubicon.
While this type of attack has mainly been targeted towards Windows users, Apple’s operating system OS X fell victim this month to its first ransomware attack from malware hidden in torrent app Transmission. The app has been patched, but gone is the longstanding idea that Macs don’t get computer viruses.
Malwarebytes, who first reported this attack, said they have alerted the ad providers so they could attempt to remedy the issue.