PSA: Ad blocking is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of browsing the web today. Users agree that it declutters web pages, but they also deny ad revenue to many sites that need it (like TechSpot). However, law enforcement agencies admit that ad blocking also mitigates some security risks that online advertising introduces.
The FBI issued a public notice this week advising consumers to watch out for scammers impersonating advertisements. The Bureau's solutions included using an ad blocker so the fraudulent ads (along with real ones) don't appear.
Users who search for companies on Google these days usually see the word "ad" next to the first couple of search results from companies that buy ads on the service. The FBI warns that some malicious actors are buying ads while impersonating real companies in elaborate schemes to scam customers and deliver malware.
Hackers might buy ads leading to sites that impersonate real businesses or brands, or use good search engine optimization to ensure their fraudulent sites appear high up in search results. From there, attackers employ common tricks like impersonating financial services to steal users' information or popular software to trick users into downloading malware.
Users should only look for software on trusted sites. If you aren't sure whether you can find a software developer's authentic website, publications like TechSpot host verified safe downloads for a variety of programs.
Despite the controversy surrounding ad blockers, the FBI admits they are an effective solution for avoiding malicious ads. The Bureau also lists other good precautions like checking an advertisement's URL to ensure it leads to the brand's actual website or directly entering the company's URL if you know it. If you don't, Wikipedia tends to list company website URLs in its corresponding articles.
The FBI also thinks businesses can help protect customers from online fraud. Domain protection services can alert companies when similar domains appear.
Despite the increased safety ad blockers can provide, Google recently threatened to neuter them in Chrome, though they appear to be safe for now. The company planned to migrate the browser to Manifest V3 next month, which would have severely limited ad blockers' capabilities. Popular extension uBlock Origin wouldn't survive the switch without serious changes, for example. Earlier this month, Google delayed the move away from V2 and won't try to curtail ad blockers at least until March.