Anyone who’s run a Web site is probably familiar with the term “malvertising,” which occurs when crooks hide exploits and malware inside of legitimate-looking ads that are submitted to major online advertising networks. But there’s a relatively new form of malware-based advertising that’s gaining ground — otherwise harmless ads for illicit services that are embedded inside the malware itself.
At its most basic, this form of advertising — which I’m calling “crimevertising” for want of a better term — has been around for many years. Most often it takes the form of banner ads on underground forums that hawk everything from cybercriminal employment opportunities to banking Trojans and crooked cashout services. More recently, malware authors have started offering the ability to place paid ads in the Web-based administrative panels that customers use to control their botnets. Such placements afford advertisers an unprecedented opportunity to keep their brand name in front of the eyeballs of their target audience for hours on end.
A perfect example of crimevertising 2.0 is the interface for the Blackhole Exploit Kit, crimeware that makes it simple for just about anyone to build a botnet. The business end of this kit is stitched into hacked or malicious Web sites, and visitors with outdated browser plugins get redirected to sites that serve malware of the miscreant’s choosing. Blackhole users can monitor new victims and the success rates of the compromised sites using a browser-based administrative panel.
In the screen shot above, the administration panel of a working Blackhole exploit kit shows two different ads; both promote the purchase and sale of Internet traffic. And here is a prime example of just how targeted this advertising can be: The most common reason miscreants purchase Internet traffic is to redirect it to sites they’ve retrofitted with exploit kits like Blackhole.