PornHub visitors hit with malware attack via poisoned ads

The three KovCoreG social engineering templates we observed. Pic Proofpoint

As a result it remained undetected for more than a year, and is believed to continue elsewhere, Proofpoint said.

A hacker collective known as KovCoreG has been targeting the users of the PornHub pornography website, tricking them into downloading and installing malware on their computers. With more than 26 billion visitors a year, Pornhub is largest porn site in the worl, the 20th most-visited website in the United States and the 37th most-popular in the world.

"Very few groups have the capability to abuse the advertising chains of some of the world's most visited websites; however, the KovCoreG group is one of them".

Those running Chrome or Firefox were redirected to a page asking them to download a browser update, which in fact linked to a JavaScript file, and those running Internet Explorer or Edge were told to download a Flash update, which instead linked to an HTML application (HTA) executable.

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Once the victim downloaded the malicious fake update, the malware would immediately infect their machine and covertly click on certain adverts to generate funds illicitly.

"Once users clicked on what they thought was an update file, they may not have even noticed a change in their systems as the malware opened an invisible web browser process, clicked on ads, and generated potential revenue for cybercriminals", explained Proofpoint VP of operations, Kevin Epstein.

This article has been updated to include a comment from PornHub.

The fake advertisements encouraging users to infect themselves with the Kovter malware "could just as easily have been ransomware, an information stealer, or any other malware", said Proofpoint.

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"This discovery underscores that threat actors follow the money and continue to flawless combinations of social engineering, targeting, and pre-filtering to infect new victims at scale".

To stay protected against malware and malvertising, security expert Javvad Malik from the security firm AlienVault told Newsweek it's important people keep in mind to not click on links in pop-ups and to stay on reputable sites. "In 2016, Google removed 12 million bad ads which, aside from malware, included illegal product promotion and misleading ads".

"There has been an upturn in the number of reputable organizations distributing malvertising", Malik says.

"The audience is possibly less likely to have security in place or active as people's perception is that it's already a dark place to surf", he said.

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"Also the user may be less likely to call for help ... not wanting others to see their browsing habits - and of course the criminals are fully aware of this".

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