Chances are if you’ve been browsing the web for more than a couple years, you’ve picked up at least one or two pieces of malware or spyware from an ad on the Internet.
For far too long the online advertising agency has acted with nearly no oversight for their actions or vetting process when it comes to who’s developing the code that makes their persistent pop-ups and bandwidth-hogging banners possible.
Hopefully that practice will come to an end soon though, with the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs claiming that the current landscape that most popular advertising platforms depend on need to be subjected to greater scrutiny and oversight before being allowed on the front pages of some of the web’s most popular web portals like Yahoo or AOL.
“An ordinary online advertisement typically goes through five or six intermediaries before being delivered to a user’s browser, and the ad networks themselves rarely deliver the actual advertisement from their own servers.”
The report released by the committee concluded that as it stands today, the advertising agencies are far too disconnected from the people who actually create and distribute the code that makes their brand pushes possible. Each relationship the advertisers have is so removed from the people who are actually writing the code itself, it becomes nearly impossible for them to effectively dig through the contents of what they’ve bought for each site they choose to market their newest products on.
“Self-regulatory bodies should endeavor to develop comprehensive security guidelines for preventing online advertising malware attacks,” the committee said. “In the absence of effective self-regulation, the FTC should consider issuing comprehensive regulations to prohibit deceptive and unfair online advertising practices that facilitate or fail to take reasonable steps to prevent malware, invasive cookies, and inappropriate data collection delivered to Internet consumers through online advertisements.”
Along with tightening the restrictions on what is and isn’t allowed through the current system as it exists today, the committee also put forward a list of suggestions which they said could better protect unwitting users who visit a page expecting a certain type of content, only to be bombarded by another put in place by the resident sponsor at the time.
A great example of this is the new “circuit breaker” concept, which in theory would give greater levels of control to the companies who purchase these ads and pay for the space to keep them running. By granting them a higher level of authority over the process, the hope is these issues can be avoided entirely by a self-policing team of programmers and IT admins who know what to look for and can squash it out accordingly.
One of the best solutions to mitigating this threat is also the most obvious: Adblock Plus. The add-on which is available for Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari automatically blocks any advertisements which might appear on a given page, and prevents the data contained within each from ever reaching your PC in the first place.
This means that even if a site is unknowingly hosting any sort of questionable material, it won’t be able to launch in your browser and infect your computer due to the whitelist/blacklist setup which is constantly being updated by users and developers of ABP.