Yep, I said it. Ads are Bad.
If you are shrugging your shoulders and thinking “yeah so what?”, “they’re just annoying, not harmful”, or “they need ads to pay for this content”, I would encourage you to read on.
If you agree with me, read on to help others learn about MANY reasons they’re bad.
Malicious Advertising is what we call Malvertising and it’s quite real. This kind of advertising can take the form of a “hot take” on a popular topic. It seeks to get you to click on the ad with a tempting headline. The headline might infuriate you or suggest to provide proof of some conspiracy theory.
This can also take the form of suggestive images or statements. They claim they’re letting you in on some secrets or illicit content of a sexual nature.
Generally, the criminals are trying to play to your emotions, and emotions click links. From there you could be taken to a website that:
- Attempts to install malicious programs on your computer.
- Imitates a legitimate website like Gmail, Outlook, Facebook or another with the intent to steal your password and login.
- Leads to another site which contains more of the same which you clicked on. Then they try and get you to sign up for an account or try to get you to pay money.
- Further links might lead to popups saying your computer is compromised and you have to call and pay someone to clean it.
- Many many more scams can be attempted once you’ve opened the door.
Many ad networks have low barriers to entry. As long as you have a valid credit card, and you can post images and links, you can distribute ads.
Ads may appear to support one product but actually lead to another. Some criminals will create images and logos which appear to closely resemble popular brands. Indeed, others just blatantly steal the logos and promise a great payoff to “just log in”.
Some of these criminal copycats will offer a contest with a reward to just sign up and have a chance to win a popular product like an Xbox or Coach handbag. The only winners in those contests are the fraudsters stealing your identity, login, and possibly your money.
Big Names Aren’t Safe
You may be surprised at some of the websites which have distributed malvertising. The New York Times, BBC, NFL, Google, Bing and many others have done so. Just because they’re a big name doesn’t mean it’s safe from fraudulent advertising.
These are some of the hottest playgrounds for these criminals, which means some of the highest-quality scams can be found here. The images and logos will look very real, the headlines incredibly inviting, and the quality of the scams will top notch.
What to do? A layered approach.
Reduce your risk by 50% with knowledge. The best first step is some basic know-how on safe web browsing. I’ve posted an article on that which you can find here. Having the basics down can save you a lot of grief later.
Get your updates. This reduces a lot of risk because many of these malicious ads exploit vulnerabilities in our computer, mobile device, software, web browser, and more. By keeping your device updated regularly, you get the updates to close the holes those ads are looking for.
Keep and maintain security software. Antivirus, anti-malware, content filtering and many other tools are available to help keep your device safe and free from threats. Choose one that addresses your risk profile. If you are just casually browsing and checking out news articles and getting your email, you may not need more than a simple solution. Conversely if you are a researcher and often browse many sites and even get into some sketchy areas, raise the bar with something more comprehensive. The security software landscape is always changing so do your research and ask questions!
Use an Ad Blocker. Let me start by saying that ads DO serve an important purpose. These days the costs to produce content online is expensive. It takes me time to write these blog posts, produce videos, and update the sites. The costs of website and domain hosting aren’t getting any cheaper. Advertising is a great way to offset those costs and pay for the time it takes to make the content. I would recommend an ad blocker for your daily browsing and if you find some content you want to support, and they DON’T have a way to donate a buck or two, then consider disabling the blocker for just that site.
Note: This site won’t have ads and gets costs and time covered by some great patrons who donate once, twice or even monthly.
Advertising isn’t just annoying popups and products you swear you were talking about in the other room. It is also comprised of malicious ads created by criminals to steal your passwords, identity and even your money. Take care when browsing and be skeptical of advertising; especially the stuff that is too good to be true.