Forbes Forces Readers to Turn Off Ad Blockers and Serves Them Malware

January 14, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

A glowing blue screen with a lock symbol and some code
Photo credit: Yuri Samoilov/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Whose fault was it really?

Wherever you go on the Internet these days, it seems like ads are constantly following you. Advertising companies are getting better at knowing what you want to see, but it can still be very tempting to use ad-blocking software to turn them off.

Unfortunately, that isn’t good for the companies advertising on the web or for those making money from the ads on their websites. Forbes recently took a stand and forced users to turn off their ad-blocking software if they wanted to read the website’s content.

SEE ALSO: Malicious Apps Look and Function Like Legitimate Apps

That might sound like a fairly harmless request — having to close a few pop-up ads really isn’t the end of the world after all — but unbeknownst to Forbes, one of the ads that popped up on people’s screens was malware.

Security researcher Brian Baskin noticed what was going on and tweeted about it on January 4.

The @Forbes website held content until I disabled Ad Blocker. I did so and was immediately given pop-under malware.

— Brian Baskin (@bbaskin) January 4, 2016

The malware opened a new browser tab that claimed to be a Java update window telling users that their software was out of date and asking them to click ok to update it. Anyone who spends much time on the Internet has seen this kind of scam before, but this is one of the common ways in which malware can infect computers.

According to Engadget, this type of malware can “silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information. Or, as is popular worldwide with these malware ‘exploit kits,’ lock up [people’s] hard drives in exchange for Bitcoin ransom.”

Now Forbes didn’t choose for this fake window to replace a regular ad, but they do their advertising through a third-party service and thus can’t control which ads their readers see. Where they went wrong was forcing users to turn off their ad-blocking software, which would have protected them.

Not all ads lead to malware. In fact, most of them are completely harmless, although perhaps kind of irritating. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to keep your ad-blocking software protecting you even if it means not getting to read some pages on the Internet. But if you do turn it off, do be sure to be careful about what you click on!

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