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Online advertising exposes some to viruses, trojans, malware.

It seems that with every new means of gaining income from the web come thousands of nefarious individuals ready to exploit it. With each new firewall, encrypted code, or password-protected account, we learn the same two lessons. No, nothing is safe. Yes, vigilance is of the utmost importance.

In May, visitors to Digital Spy learned this the hard way: They were unwittingly subjected to a hacked banner ad that installed malicious software -- or malware -- onto users' computers.

Unfortunately, many of us know just how annoying that can be.

This isn't the first instance of hackers embedding malware within online ads; sites owned by Ziff Davis Enterprise and News Corp. (NWS) have also been infected this year.

The problem lies in the complex -- and often convoluted -- way in which syndicated ads are sold. Most sites do not work directly with their advertisers, instead they use an ad exchange network. Sites sell ad space to specific ad networks, and the networks, in turn, choose which ads will actually fill the space.

If an ad network is unable to assign an advertiser to the space, it resells the space to another ad network, and so on, and so on.These layers make it difficult for sites to know just who is behind the ads that appear on their pages. They -- and their visitors -- are potentially vulnerable to hundreds or thousands of unregulated ads.

Ben Edelman, a web security researcher at the Harvard Business School told the Wall Street Journal that, "The system is only as safe as its least secure members." The problem, he said, is that, "Some of these members can be strikingly insecure."

As the chain of middlemen between site and marketer expands, companies have enlisted security vendors to keep constant tabs on potential malware being posted on their sites. Companies with high-trafficked sites like Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) use several automated and manual processes on a constant basis to detect malicious software and remove it immediately.

As you can see, some are more successful than others.
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