Many users view online advertising as a necessary evil. On the one hand, pop-ups, videos, and gigantic banner ads can be pretty annoying. On the other hand, revenue from advertising allows sites to offer great content free of charge to users.
Although advertising is just a fact of life online, many webizens use ad-blocking software to clean up their browsing experience. Recently, Forbes took a stand against ad-blocking software, forcing its users to disable their ad-blockers, and consequently proved the value of those ad-blockers inadvertently.
You see, ads are ideally an experience that benefits everyone. The consumer learns of a new product he or she might like, and the marketing platform earns some revenue. However, online ads are sometimes more than they seem. Sometimes, they’re malvertising — ads that contain malware — much like the ones that Forbes forced its visitors to see.
Malware has been on the rise over the past few years. One report found that 20% of all of the malware that’s ever existed was created in 2013 — a single year produced one in five pieces of malware out there, in other words. Worse, more than 317 million new pieces of malware were created in 2014. And instances of malware served by ad networks more than tripled between June 2014 and February 2015.
In the case of Forbes, the malvertisement opened a new tab that looked like a Java update. A dialog script popped up, warning the victim that his or her software was outdated, and that hitting OK would fix it — one of the most common ways malware tries to install itself.
Now, it’s not necessarily Forbes’s fault. The site uses third-party ad networks, as most sites do nowadays. However, the problem isn’t so much that the site had malvertising, but that it basically forced its users to expose themselves to danger.
As mentioned, ads are a good thing — they help make the Internet work — but when problems like this happen, it makes it harder to convince users to put up with ads.