“What is a rogue ad?” you ask? These types of internet advertisements try and trick you into purchasing, downloading, or installing some sort of application onto your computer that can do some pretty nasty damage to your PC. Think of it like the Trojan Horse. The ad tells you to ‘click here and make your computer faster’ or ‘you have Windows problems, click here to fix them.’ This sounds good until you realize that the payload of this promised application is really something that displays ads on your computer or redirects your web browser to objectionable sites.
So how on earth did something like this get up on to the New York Times website? According to a CNET article it sounds like a simple case of social engineering bait-and-switch at the human level. A person approached the New York Times appearing to represent a legitimate corporation looking to buy internet ad space on their website. This, in itself, is a common practice. At first glance everything checked out with this person/entity. A few days later, however, that legitimate looking advertisement was exchanged for an ad that was less than reputable. The ad was displayed for some time before someone realized what happened.
One of the most popular questions I receive in the field is “why do people do this?” In short, usually it is for monetary gain. Somewhere along the line whoever comes up with this false ad is getting money or steals your credit card number. Sometimes you are promised with a download that will fix all your “problems” that you didn’t even know you had. In that case they are looking for you to enter your credit card number to purchase some software. Other times you will be directed to a website in hopes that you will buy something off of the website.
The second popular question I get is “how do I not get infected?” Well, there is no one hard and fast answer. I can provide you with some guidelines that will help keep you safe which entail modifying your web surfing behavior. First off, most major “Name brand” websites (as I call them) are fine. The NYTimes, for instance, caught the problem quickly and removed the ads. Surfing less reputable websites that promise things too good to be true is a more dangerous proposition. Offers for free music or movie downloads are two common examples. Stay away from those websites, and don’t click on any ads that promise things like this. If you question a websites authenticity do some quick research on a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to see if it has been reported as illegitimate.
Secondly, be wary of ads promising to “speed up your pc,” “fix registry/system problems,” or “fix computer vulnerabilities”. There is no cure-all or magic program that will make your computer do some song and dance for you. They just do not exist. The only thing that should be popping up with warnings of infection is the program you have installed to scan for viruses and spyware.
To recap, here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts to protect yourself against rogue ads:
- Do stay away from websites or ads that indicate you have computer problems and promise to fix them.
- Do keep your antivirus updated, and run scans often.
- Do enable parental controls to prevent unauthorized downloads.
- Don’t use the apparent “cancel” button to make these windows disappear, use the little red “X” in the upper right hand corner.
- Don’t input your credit card number into websites unless you are sure the product you are buying is legitimate (look it up on a search engine website!)
Lastly, if you at all suspect something is awry with your computer you need to turn it off immediately and have it looked at. The longer you keep it online the worse the infection can become.
If you follow these tips you should have a much happier web surfing experience!