Are Popup Ads Dangerous?

Are Popup Ads Dangerous?

Excuse me, but your pop-up is on my screen.

Ah, yes… the ubiquitous pop-up ad. Annoying? Yes. Misunderstood? Possibly. Dangerous? Well, that remains to be seen. But what exactly is a pop-up ad? Is it anything at all that “pops” up on your screen a pop-up ad? Wikipedia says:

Pop-up ads (or pop-ups are a form of online advertising on the World Wide Web intended to attract web traffic or capture email addresses.

If we go by Wikipedia’s definition (and for the purposes of this blog post, we are), then we can break it down to say that anything that opens up a “form of online advertising on the World Wide Web” is a pop-up ad. Notice the emphasis on “online” — in this blog post we’re not including pop-ups that are generated from software. (Usually in the form of a Windows dialog box) That’s a good topic for another post at another time.

What’s dangerous and what’s annoying?

In reality, a true online ad is no more dangerous than a TV ad. Sure, it may be an annoyance, but you’re not going to get anything you don’t ask for unless you click on the ad. The trouble is that a malicious pop-up can be confused with a legitimate pop-up ad. That’s the rub. Whether those pop-ups come from software, a website, or from a magical dimension (ha-ha-ha), bad stuff is bad stuff, and that bad stuff is often masked to look like a legitimate pop-up. Why? Because the folks who are trying to get their badness out there are preying on our trust. Make the pop-up look like it came from a trusted source and more people will click.

Because of that, you and I have to be careful when surfing the Web and we’re confronted with a pop-up. Even if it’s something we’re interested in, we run the risk of being redirected somewhere we didn’t think we’d be sent to. And even if we’re not interested, sometimes even closing the pop-up can be a challenge. How many times have you tried to close a browser window with a pop-up ad only to be confronted with another pop-up? Even worse are the pop-up confirmation boxes that ask us if we’re sure, and then confuse us by saying clicking one button will do this and the other will do that, and neither explanation seems clear as to what clicking on either will actually do. It’s enough to drive you crazy!

Closing the pop-up debate.

If you’re surfing the Internet and keeping to well known sites like Google, Bing, and other big-name blogs/sites/etc. then the likelihood of you getting propositioned by a malicious pop-up are small. But no matter if you stay on the big sites or walk the wild side, you can keep yourself safe by downloading and installing a pop-up blocker, antivirus and anti-spyware software that specifically looks to remove any malicious software you may accidentally get infected with. Doing so will help keep you safe, whether or not you’re being exposed to legitimate ads or dangerous pop-ups.

Image courtesy of / CC BY-ND 2.0

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About Jon

Jon has worked in the tech industry since the pre-Bubble dotcom days and still has a 1200 Baud modem somewhere in his garage. When he's not advocating the use of strong passwords and being smart about social media, he's working on finding new ways to convince his wife that bacon is a vegetable which should be eaten with every meal.