Information technology giant Microsoft recently filed five charges against different parties that the company suspects of posting malicious advertisements online. Intending to assuage one of the fastest growing problems in the Internet world, Microsoft chose to take legal action against web advertisements loaded with malicious code. Such is the first time that Microsoft has gone to court regarding such issues coined as “malvertising”, although the company has long been trying to work with advertising networks to address them.
The significance of the lawsuit
According to Microsoft’s associate general counsel, Tim Cranton, the lawsuits filed by the company delineated and attempted to deconstruct how the accused parties operated. In the same blog post, Cranton added that, in general, “malvertising” or malicious advertising works by disguising malicious advertisements, messages, codes or other forms of content as “harmless online advertisements”. The names of the specific people responsible for the malicious advertisements are still unknown as of the moment, even to Microsoft, so the charges were filed against unknown parties. However, Microsoft is hoping that such a move will help reveal the parties responsible and keep them and many others from continuously exploiting the Internet advertisement scene.
In the past, Microsoft has already filed lawsuits against parties suspected to be responsible for instant messaging spam or click fraud. The company has likened its recent legal action against malicious advertisements with its previous legal charges against other problems bugging the Internet world. According to Cranton, web advertising is a very important factor in keeping the Internet up and running so it’s very important that troublemakers such as those responsible for malicious ads, frauds, viruses and other problems be thwarted.
“It’s the fuel that drives search technologies. It pays for free online services like Windows Live, Facebook, Yahoo, and MSN. Fraud and malicious abuse of online ad platforms are therefore a serious threat to the industry and for all consumers and businesses that rely on these free services,” he said. Microsoft believes that even problems such as viruses attacking websites must also be addressed. Just recently, the website of the New York Times’ web site suddenly got an advertisement telling visitors that their computers might have acquired a virus and redirects the users to a site supposedly offering antivirus software.
There are similarities in the interface and design of the animations in the malicious web ads Microsoft is dealing with and the scareware that attacked the New York Times web site. However, while it can be likely that makers of malicious web advertisements and scareware could be the same, there has not been any proof that those responsible for the New York Times web site attack are the same ones that Microsoft sued. Further investigation and research still has to be done.