Malicious adverts displayed on the Ask.fm website have been automatically redirecting users to malware sites, where they are prompted to install unwanted or malicious software under the pretense of Java and Flash Player updates.
Ask.fm is a popular social network which allows its users to receive and answer anonymous questions, but both registered users and anonymous question askers are being put at risk by some of the adverts it displays: Merely viewing a user's profile on Ask.fm caused some users to be redirected to the following page, which claimed that an outdated Java plugin had been detected (even when Java had been disabled).
Rather than downloading a Java update, victims will instead end up installing a program which several anti-virus vendors identify as DomaIQ. This is an advertising platform used by adware and other malicious programs to display unwanted pop-up ads within Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.
The rogue advert responsible for performing the redirection was initially served through ADTECH GmbH, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of AOL. However, the trail does not end there – the framed content served by ADTECH subsequently requested several pages from AppNexus servers at ib.adnxs.com and ams1.ib.adnxs.com, before one of these pages initiated a request to a Java servlet on exchange.admailtiser.com. Finally, this servlet page caused the parent frame to be redirected from Ask.fm to the page on www.updriong.com, essentially taking the browser to a different website without requiring any user interaction.
After returning to the Ask.fm website, another rogue advert immediately redirected the browser to a fake Adobe Flash update site. Again, no user interaction was required – the chain of requests initiated by the third party advert automatically redirected the user's browser to the fake site hosted in Sweden.
In this case, the rogue advert on http://ask.fm/account/wall was again initially served by ADTECH, but the framed content made its next request to a Yahoo ad server (ads.yahoo.com), which in turn made a request to ad.copa-media.com, which itself made a request for content hosted on an AppNexus server at ams1.ib.adnxs.com.
Finally, a request to another AppNexus server at ib.adnxs.com resulted in the user's browser being redirected to the fake Adobe Flash update site at download.adoocobo.us. The setup.exe file is served from a domain which is known for propagating malware.
Mobile browsers have also been targeted by similar attacks on Ask.fm. The example below shows an Ask.fm webpage displaying an intrusive and unsolicited alert dialog which originates from a Yahoo ad server. If the user clicks OK, he will be taken to a site which falsely claims that his phone has severe battery issues.
Within a few minutes, another advert on Ask.fm attempted to download an Android app directly from a website in France as soon as the user clicked OK. The makers of the genuine Mobogenie Market app recommend that it should only be downloaded from reliable sources such as Google Play, mobogenie.com and other partner networks (although it does not specify who these are).
Most high profile websites only ever transmit passwords over encrypted HTTPS connections, and many sites also ensure that the entire duration of a browser session remains encrypted, i.e. not just the login process. Sending plain text passwords over an unencrypted connection makes them vulnerable to eavesdropping, giving a correctly-positioned attacker the opportunity to gain unauthorised access to Ask.fm user accounts.