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The Hidden Risks of Online Ads

We recently released the Browser Security Guidebook to provide our users and customers with all the information and guidelines to be aware of in order to have a safe and clean in-browser experience. The below article is a snippet of the information available in the guidebook. If you find this blog post interesting and helpful and would like to read more, download the full guidebook here.

Online ads can be found almost everywhere on the internet nowadays. Before videos, on the sides of articles, in your social media feeds. But aside from being a source of annoyance, they can also potentially put your digital identity and privacy at risk.


What are online ads?


Online advertisement is the predominant business model of the internet today. It’s hard to visit any website without ads popping up all over the page. Sometimes it can be quite overwhelming!

Ads are there to entice users to visit websites that match their interests. The ad delivers a cleverly worded marketing message, directing the user straight to the source, helping to boost web traffic and brand exposure. The targeted customer is then persuaded to engage in a specific action, such as making an online purchase.

Websites and apps you visit every day are largely “free” because they monetize your data and your attention through advertising. Collecting data sets of individuals and groups online has become more readily available to companies in recent years, and as such, advertisers have now developed strategies to minimize what they spend on ads, while maximizing the profit made from them.

The ad tech arms race is constantly evolving, and the more invasive practices that are used become, the more valuable your data is. The following are some of the most common online advertising strategies and associated activities being used that rely on collecting data about users today.


How ads can put users at risk


Apart from the privacy concerns that ads create, ads can be used to compromise users’ identities. The most common way is by having a malicious party trick ad networks into displaying an ad that contains a link to a malicious website or download.

For example, a user visits a website and an ad about Nike sneakers being heavily discounted pops up. The user clicks on the ad thinking that it will redirect them to the discounted Amazon listing, but instead they are redirected to an Amazon lookalike website, designed to steal all of the user’s personal information.

The information they give (login, credit card, address etc.) is directly transmitted to the attacker and the user is redirected to the legitimate Amazon website on which they would fail to find the offer they saw being advertised and soon end up forgetting about the offer altogether. This attack has not only taken place without the user being aware, but it has also compromised the user’s Amazon information, all because of a malicious ad.


How to protect users from malicious ads


The best way for users to protect themselves from malicious online ads of any kind is to install an ad blocker. An ad blocker usually comes in the form of a browser extension that blocks ads from being displayed in the browser. Installing an ad blocker will help make browsing online safer as well as secure.

Apart from using an ad blocker, users should:

  • Always remain vigilant when dealing with ads
  • Always check the website the ad is redirecting users to
  • Never input usernames and passwords after clicking on an ad
  • Never download any piece of software that an ad is asking you to install
  • Never click on ads that seem too good to be true

The best way for users to protect themselves from malicious online ads of any kind is to install an ad blocker. An ad blocker usually comes in the form of a browser extension that blocks ads from being displayed in the browser. Installing an ad blocker will help make browsing online safer and more secure.

Apart from using an ad blocker, users should:

  • Always remain vigilant when dealing with ads
  • Always check the website the ad is redirecting users to
  • Never input usernames and passwords after clicking on an ad
  • Never download any piece of software that an ad is asking you to install
  • Never click on ads that seem too good to be true

Looking to better protect yourself and your clients from malicious online ads? Our browser security solution GUARD can help you do that and much more. Book a free demo today.

The Hidden Risks of Online Ads
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