One of the most common pieces of advice given to computer users is to avoid suspicious websites. Websites known for illegal or disreputable content are frequently hosts to a variety of different types of malware. But you can be exposed to malware through more than just downloads from your favorite torrent site. Sometimes, incredibly popular and trusted websites such as YouTube, Facebook, and more can be sources of malware. Here is a quick breakdown of how it works, and what you can do to avoid it.

When you connect to a site, you are typically connecting to more URLs than simply the URL for the specific website you visit. You are also connecting to the websites which are responsible for hosting a variety of different pieces of content on the page. For example, video content and advertising are commonly parts of a webpage which rely on other servers. In this case, while you are connecting to your favorite social media platform, you are also getting content from a video hosting site and an advertisers server. Malware creators can use this additional connection to use trusted sites as vectors for infection.
It works like this. If you are on a website which is trusted, but the website is hosting ads from other sites, these ads could serve as vectors for malware. The malware creators load up these sites with malware, and the malware will infect any computers which connect to their servers. Then, they wait for someone to click (accidentally or not) on one of their ads, which is displayed on a reputable site. Once they have brought you onto their malware ridden site, you can be infected.

Trusted sites don’t want this to happen. When their sites are sources for malware, they lose trust and potentially customers. So most major companies do make efforts to prevent this type of advertising, by screening their advertising partners, and utilizing antivirus software. However, they do not always succeed. As always, malware and security experts are constantly battling for wins, and whenever the malware creators gain an advantage, you have the opportunity to be infected.

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To protect yourself, don’t become complacent simply because you are on a site that you trust. Just because the site is owned by a major company doesn’t mean that the ads will be safe. Try not to click on any of the ads displayed. If you are curious about a product, do some independent research.