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UK, 15 June 2023: Independent research conducted by CensusWide for Menlo Security, Inc. (Menlo Security), a leader in cloud security, has revealed that one in three UK consumers believe that over half of all advertisements on websites or social media sites are generated by AI (artificial intelligence).
Menlo Security is warning of an increase in ‘malvertising’, a form of highly evasive threat where malware is embedded into online or social media ads – due to the rise in convincing fake ads created by AI tools like ChatGPT and image generators, like Midjourney and DALLE. The research also highlights that many are unaware of the risks of clicking on fake, and therefore potentially malicious, advertisements.
The vast majority (70%) of respondents don’t know they can be infected with malware by clicking on a brand logo despite an increase in impersonated brands like Microsoft and Google. Around half (48%) are unaware they can be infected via a social media ad and 40% don’t know they can be infected by clicking on pop-ups and banners. By comparison, almost three-quarters (73%) understand they can be infected by malware hidden in an email link.
In the study, 70% of consumers say they click on advertisements on the internet ‘to some extent’; this is despite AI-generated ads making it more difficult to identify them as malicious. As people visit sites with infected ads, they may unknowingly download malware onto their device. On average, one out of 100 online ads is malicious, but Menlo Security warns that this could rise as more AI tools and software become available and easy to use.
Almost a third (31%) of all respondents are not confident in their ability to recognise and avoid malvertising threats. This rises to 40% in women and 41% of over-55s.
Consumer trust varies according to the nature of the site. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram are seen as more trustworthy, with one in five people trusting these sites not to have malvertising, while Twitter is less so (with only 14% trusting it not to have malvertising). This trust increases slightly for sites such as Amazon (28%) and Google (25%).
Tom McVey, AI security spokesperson at Menlo Security, comments: “The growing prevalence of AI generated content online will only fuel highly evasive threats such as malvertising. AI used maliciously can not only generate convincing text, it can also generate images which can be made to appear like popular brands or logos. Our research has found that you’re only 3-7 clicks away from malware online. When users click a false link, cybercriminals can inject their malware onto the victim’s device, most commonly for financial gain. With malware-as-a-service and AI generated text and images easily accessible, even attackers with little or no skills can create convincing ads – we’re expecting a big uptick in malvertising as a result.
“The research found that only 32% wouldn’t trust any website not to contain malvertising, but awareness of the risks needs to increase so that anyone online applies caution to clicking on adverts on any website, no matter how much they trust it. For example, we found that the top three brands impersonated by malicious threat actors over the last 90 days, to steal personal and confidential data, were Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. Some people may be shocked to learn that even the most credible websites are not immune to malvertising.”
Tom McVey shared the following top tips to avoid being the victim of malvertising:
The research was undertaken by CensusWide for Menlo Security involving 1,000 UK consumers during 31 May 2023 – 2 June 2023.
Menlo Security protects organisations from cyberattacks by eliminating the threat of malware from the web, documents, and email. Menlo Security’s isolation-powered cloud security platform scales to provide comprehensive protection across enterprises of any size, without requiring endpoint software or impacting the end user-experience. Menlo Security is trusted by major global businesses, including Fortune 500 companies and eight of the ten largest global financial services institutions, and is backed by Vista Equity Partners, Neuberger Berman, General Catalyst, American Express Ventures, Ericsson Ventures, HSBC, and JP Morgan Chase. Menlo Security is headquartered in Mountain View, California. For more information, please visit www.menlosecurity.com.
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