Getting serious about malvertising with TAG

Authored by Alex Calic, Chief Revenue Officer, The Media Trust

3 steps to anti-malware certification

cmyk TAG Certified Against Malware

Malware is a serious problem in the digital advertising ecosystem. Not only is it a contributing factor to ad blocking adoption, but also a significant driver of ad fraud. The World Federation of Advertisers estimates that the total cost of ad fraud could exceed $50B by 2025. Clearly, something must be done.

Various groups have attempted to address this malware problem with little success, but one group is taking decisive action. The Trustworthy and Accountability Group (TAG)—supported by the IAB—recently launched a malware certification program. As an inaugural certification recipient, The Media Trust is fully behind this initiative—just ask for program details.

The certification program is open to any entity that touches creative as it moves through the digital advertising ecosystem, from buyer to intermediary to seller. Even malware scanners like The Media Trust have the option to participate and commit to industry efforts for creating a healthier advertising supply chain.

Benefits: Reap what you sow

TAG’s “Certified Against Malware” seal is awarded to enterprises that can demonstrate adherence to rigorous anti-malware standards, especially those delineated in TAG’s Best Practices for Scanning Creative for Malware.

The program yields a host of benefits for publishers and their upstream partners. Specifically, participating companies can:

  • Improve their enterprise security posture: Adoption of continuous, 24/7, client-side scanning of digital advertising campaigns detects malware before it propagates to consumer devices.
  • Speed incident response: By allowing The Media Trust to send simultaneous alerts to you and your business partners, you reduce the time needed to resolve the issue across your entire advertising value chain.
  • Satisfy upstream partner requirements: Demonstrate compliance with advertiser and/or buyer directed policies for security.
  • Protect your brand value: Receive a “Certified Against Malware” seal from TAG to signal your enterprise’s efforts to identify and remediate malware in the digital ecosystem, a key element in many value propositions
  • Prove digital asset governance: Discovery and validation of all parties executing in your digital ecosystem supports enterprise-wide governance and risk frameworks.

Requirements: Steps to anti-malware certification

Anti-malware certification program participants promise to adhere to malware scanning best practices, make best efforts to identify and terminate malicious activity, and submit to a TAG-directed audit.

You, too, can join industry efforts by following these steps:

  1. Complete TAG registration: If not already a TAG-registered company, fill out the registration form, signal interest in malware certification (fees may apply), and designate both a TAG Compliance Officer and a primary malware point of contact. Indicate anticipated anti-malware certification path:
  • Self certify: Enterprise submits forms and documentation directly to TAG
  • Independent validation: Accredited audit firm or digital media auditor submits forms and documentation to TAG on the enterprise’s behalf
  1. Evaluate digital advertising ecosystem: To determine a reasonable scanning cadence, companies need to understand existing inventory flowing through the environment and the involvement of all upstream partners. Review existing inventory and assess typical volume by in-house, direct and programmatic; and, also consider the volume percentage by display, mobile, video, header bidding, etc.

Upstream partners should be identified and points of contact for security violations documented. Appraise each partner according to their history of addressing malware incidents, industry reputation and general relationship experience. Especially if a direct contract is not involved, discuss respective malware scanning responsibilities.

  1. Scan inventory: Implement malware scanning according to TAG’s Best Practices for Scanning Malware and document the entire processes. As a Certified Against Malware scanner, The Media Trust provides documentation on the scanning protocol for your environment including resolution procedure for malware incidents (Red Flag event).

NOTE: Watch this quick overview of TAG’s recommended scanning cadence.

Terminate malware: What are you waiting for?

The future of the digital ecosystem rests on everyone’s shoulder—advertiser, agency, ad tech and publisher. Let’s make it a better place. Verify your inventory is malware-free. The Media Trust can show you how—Just ask.

Malvertising: Is this the beginning of the end?

TAG Malware Scanning Guidelines

Decoding TAG malware scanning guidelines for tactical use 

Note: View webinar at 

The advertising industry’s crackdown on malvertising has begun. TAG’s recently-released malware scanning guidelines clearly state that every player in the digital advertising ecosystem has a role in deterring, detecting and removing malware.

However, these guidelines need to be translated into action plans. As with many cross-industry initiatives, the TAG guidelines serve several different groups across the digital ecosystem while also introducing security concepts to advertising/marketing professionals. The use of words such as: interdict, cloaking, checksum, and eval(), may baffle many ad ops professionals just like defining “creative” as a payload may baffle security teams.

The good news is that The Media Trust’s existing malware clients are already 100% compliant with the guidelines. Other ad ops teams at agencies, ad tech providers, and publishers, will need to translate the best practices into tactical actions in order to bring their operations into compliance.

What is clear: Scanning is in your future

Every entity that touches or contributes code to the serving of an ad plays a role in malware deterrence – this much is clear. Agencies, ad tech providers and publishers alike are, therefore, expected to proactively and repeatedly review their ads for malware.

Specifically, the guidelines state that:

  1.    Ads and their associated landing pages must be scanned for malware
  2.    Scanning should be performed before an ad is viewed by the end consumer
  3.    If initial scanning detects malware, then the ad must be rescanned until malware-free

Read between the lines: Reap what you sow

The complexities of the digital ecosystem make it almost impossible to explicitly state what each player in the advertising ecosystem should do. Typically, the amount of scanning required is directly proportional to the risk of serving a malware-infected ad or directing to a malware-infected landing page. While there are some directional tips, the guidelines also present a few abstract recommendations:

  • Scanning frequency

Ad formats, demand types, consumer reach and access to an ad as it traverses from advertiser to publisher, affect the frequency of recommended scanning.

For instance, a publisher with a campaign using hosted, static ads, targeting a small number of impressions does not have as robust a scanning requirement as a publisher running campaigns with rich media served programmatically. And, an ad contaminated by malware needs to be scanned more frequently than one that doesn’t set off alarm bells during the initial scan. And, an ad that changes mid-flight—modifying targeting, increasing number of impressions, introducing rich media—requires additional scanning.

  • Proof of scanning

Claiming an ad is scanned is not sufficient. As a best practice, all parties should document proof of scanning and this proof should contain creative id, tag specifications, date of initial and subsequent scans and scanning results. In addition, each party in the advertising value chain should establish a point of contact for reporting malware and communicate it to their upstream and downstream partners. 

  • Know your partner

A critical factor that informs rescanning cadence is the provider’s confidence in their upstream partner(s). Long-standing relationships with reputable, responsive partner(s) infers a reduced likelihood of malicious activity, as opposed to a newly-formed partnership with a one-man shop based in a foreign country. And, the provider should also track and document if their partner adheres to the scanning guidelines, too.

Look ahead: This is just the beginning

The guidelines clearly set the stage for optimizing ad quality and its resulting effect on the user experience, with an emphasis on security. A 100% malware-free advertising experience can’t be guaranteed, but everyone agrees it can be greatly improved. Future steps will undoubtedly address data privacy, ad behavior and more.

While these guidelines provide the impetus to tackle malvertising, it’s a safe bet that industry leaders will push to make them standard a la TAG Certified Against Fraud and Certified Against Piracy programs. And, in order to standardize, a certification and evaluation or audit process will be needed.  

Stay tuned.

Learn more
The Media Trust hosted three informative webinars presenting specific direction to publishers, ad tech providers and agency/buyers. To view, visit