The Huffington Post and several major websites displayed malware-laced advertisements that infected computers and locked them down.
The cyberattack and extortion campaign was discovered by researchers at cybersecurity firm Cyphort. The hackers are demanding money to unlock computers infected with their malware.
It’s unclear how many computers were infected. The attack appears to have only affected people running Windows PCs using outdated browsers, including Internet Explorer 8 — the most-used version of Microsoft’s IE browser. Modern, updated browsers such as Internet Explorer 11, Google Chrome and Mozilla’s latest version of Firefox were not susceptible to the malware.
The malware ran on ads served by AOL’s network between Dec. 31 until Jan. 5, researchers said. It’s possible that the campaign stretched as far back as October.
If you were using an older browser, merely visiting a website was enough to get hit with the malware. When ads appeared, they silently infected computers. People didn’t even have to click on them.
It affected ads displayed on The Huffington Post, men’s magazine FHM, alternative newspapers LA Weekly and Houston Press, video game site GameZone, and many others.
FHM’s publisher, Bauer Media UK, said it’s now asking its advertising partner, The Rubicon Project (RUBI), to investigate the matter.
None of the other websites responded to questions from CNNMoney.
AOL spokesman Gerasimos Manolatos said the company “quickly took the necessary steps to rectify” and said “AOL is committed to bringing new levels of transparency to the advertising process, ensuring ads uphold quality standards and create positive consumer experiences.”
However, AOL would not say how many people were exposed to the poison ads.
The malicious software is called Kovter, a nasty strain of so-called ransomware.
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