There is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days, with many sectors increasingly taking advantage of AI applications — from companies to educational institutions, even fast food restaurants.

And cybercriminals are no exception. They’re taking advantage of people’s interest in AI to spread harmful malware through online ads, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The scammers run bogus ads for AI tools and other software on social media sites and on search engines. These savvy cybercriminals can evade detection by systems designed to weed out malicious advertising, according to the FTC. They can also evade anti-virus software.

Here's how it works. If you click on a malicious ad, you end up on a site that "looks" just like the real thing, because the criminals copied the webpages of the legitimate site (called "cloning"). But the cloned site is set up to download a malware-tainted version of the software onto your device. Some ads may take you to the real software website, but they hacked the site and downloaded malware along with the legitimate software — invisibly in the background — which makes it difficult to know you got hacked.

The malware often allows the criminals to see everything saved on your computer, typed on your keyboard, or displayed on your screen. Sometimes they steal it for themselves or sell it to other hackers on the dark web. Often, the information includes credentials to your online accounts for financial fraud, or to your email which can be used to send scam emails to people in your contacts.

So what can you do? The FTC offers some tips to help prevent you from becoming a victim:

  • Don’t click on ads to download software. If you see an ad for software that piques your interest, don’t click on it. Instead, go to the website by typing in the address in your browser.
  • If you don’t know the website address, search for it. But remember that scammers also place ads on search engines. They’ll appear at the top of your search results page and might have a label that says “Ad” or “Sponsored”. Scroll past those to get to your search results.
  • Malicious ads might evade anti-virus software, but it’s still a good idea to make sure your computer’s security software, operating system, and internet browser, and your phone, are up to date. Also, turn on automatic updates to keep up with the latest protections.

If you think your computer has malware, report it to the FTC at CEFCU also offers a number of tips on how to stay safe online. For more information on online security, visit