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The FBI says you need to use an ad blocker, hard to disagree

Christmas may be over, but the holiday season is not. Post-Christmas sales are just taking off, which means advertisers of all stripes are waiting in the wings to poke you with their favorite weapon: intrusive, noisy and repetitive ads.

But that’s only part of the problem: not only do adverts get on your nerves, they can also be potentially dangerous. This is according to none other than the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). In an alert issued just before the holidays, the FBI warned about a security threat from search engine ads placed by cyber criminals. These ads appear at the very top of search results, and are designed to look exactly like the real deal with “minimum distinction” between them and the actual search results, the agency said.

On a side note: it doesn’t help that over the years Google has made paid ads less and less distinguishable from organic search results in its pursuit of ad money — its main source of revenue. But that’s another story.

Although these ads themselves are not malicious — that is, clicking on a search ad won’t infect your computer with a virus — they lead to spoofed web pages that contain malware you may download thinking it’s legitimate software.

Another threat coming from ads is that they are increasingly being used as a means to direct users to fake financial websites masquerading as crypto exchange platforms, the FBI said. These fraudulent sites mimic the design of real platforms and ask users to leave their login credentials and financial details, which criminals then use to steal money. Indeed, this particular type of crypto-fraud seems to be gaining momentum. Security firm Netskope Inc reported earlier this year that there are sham websites for a growing number of popular crypto services. Bloomberg carried out its own investigation, noting that Google searches for popular crypto platforms “return results with the phishing links on the first page”.

There are a few things you can do to avoid falling victim to bad ads. Perhaps, we should just cite the FBI on this one:

  • Before clicking on an advertisement, check the URL to make sure the site is authentic. A malicious domain name may be similar to the intended URL but with typos or a misplaced letter.
  • Rather than search for a business or financial institution, type the business’s URL into an internet browser’s address bar to access the official website directly.
  • Use an ad blocking extension when performing internet searches. Most internet browsers allow a user to add extensions, including extensions that block advertisements. These ad blockers can be turned on and off within a browser to permit advertisements on certain websites while blocking advertisements on others

We concur.

An ad blocker will not only protect you from obnoxious ads and trackers, thereby reducing the amount of information that can be collected about you, but it will also prevent phishing and malware sites from loading.

In addition to combating adware and stopping phishing attacks, there are other non-obvious benefits of using an ad blocker. Read about the rest of them here and have a safe and ad-free holiday!

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