Website Banner Ads

March 31, 2010

Banner ads are usually rectangular advertisements at the top, bottom, or side of a website where an advertisement is shown. Don’t confuse these with pop-ups, although those are often advertisements too. Thanks to pop-up blockers built-in to most web browsers, pop-ups aren’t as big of a problem as they used to be.

Banner ads have never really bothered me that much. I don’t like it when they flash and I don’t like it when they talk, play music, or beep. But other than that, they never bothered me much. They do, however, slow down the loading of the web page you are visiting, but I have a fast internet connection and I always figured they allowed the website I was visiting to make some money thus keeping their service free to me.

But in the last few months we have seen several customer’s computers become infected from banner advertisements. One of my own computers became infected from a banner advertisement as well. Actually, using banner ads to infect computers isn’t anything new. They have been doing it for years. But that was mainly on questionable websites. Now it appears that some reputable websites have had some infected banner ads. So those of us that try to avoid the seedy websites are more at risk now.

To understand how a reputable website can have an infected banner ad, you have to understand how banner advertising works.

Let’s say Sam puts a website up on the web and wants to make money from advertisements. So he signs up with an advertisement provider. These advertisement providers get paid by companies to put their advertisements on websites.

The advertisement company gives Sam some code to plug into his website so that the advertising company can put a banner ad on his website. When someone visit’s Sam’s website, they see the content Sam put there, but they will also see the banner advertisement. The information in the banner advertisement is not actually on Sam’s website. It’s loaded from the advertising company’s website.  Each time someone visits Sam’s website, the banner advertisement can be different. The advertising company can change the ad anytime they want without contacting Sam.

Now that you have an idea how it works, here is how it’s abused. In some cases, the advertiser is corrupt and intentionally allows advertisers to place infected banner advertisements on their customers websites because it is very profitable. But reputable websites don’t use these advertising companies. What happens is that the advertising company’s website is hacked and an infected banner advertisement is put there so that any website using their service will show the infected banner advertisement.

When you go to a website and it has an infected banner advertisement, you may get a pop up message similar to this: 

If you get this, don’t click on anything in that pop-up message. Don’t even click Cancel. Some of these messages don’t even have Cancel. Use task manager to kill internet explorer. If you don’t know how to do that, just reboot your computer. However, you may not get any message. Depending on a lot of different factors, it may be possible for these banner ads to just infect your computer without popping up a message and tricking you.

That is why we are now recommending that all our customers use software to block banner advertisements. Before you install banner advertisement blocking software, there are a few things you should be aware of.

When you view a webpage that normally has banner advertisements on it, if you are blocking banners, the website may look funny or it might be confusing because part of it is missing. In addition, some non-advertising banners may be blocked. Another long-term drawback is that everyone blocked banner advertisements, a lot of free services on the web would go away or won’t be free anymore.

But these drawbacks are minimal when compared to the security of your computer. That’s why we recommend installing banner ad blocking software. There are commercially available ad blocking software packages you can purchase, but there’s no need to do that because there are some good one’s that are free.

If you use Internet Explorer, go to www.simple-adblock.com where you can download and install Adblock for Internet Explorer.

If you use Firefox, there is an addon that will block banner advertisements.  To install it, open Firefox and click on Tools and then click on Addons in the menu. In the search box, type adblock plus and click on the little magnifying glass.  By the way, if you can’t seem to find the option for searching for and installing new addons, then you probably have an old version of Firefox. If that’s the case, just go to getfirefox.com and download and install the latest version of Firefox. Once you have found the Adblock Plus addon that has the red stop sign with ABP in it, then click on it and then click the “Add to Firefox” button and install it. You’ll need to click the “Restart Firefox” button.

If you use Google Chrome, open Chrome and go to https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/gighmmpiobklfepjocnamgkkbiglidom and click the install button.

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