Ad Blocker Extension Protects You From Malware. True or False?

Published by Adrian in Web Security

adblocker protects from malware

An ad blocker is an extension you can install on your web browser. It protects you from malware, at least from the malware that spreads through ads, also known as malvertising. Once activated, such an extension will eliminate the display of banner ads and pop-ups, along with other types of ads, from the web pages you’re visiting.

Among internet users, this true or false question is quite common. Those who support it entirely have the following argument: ads are a well-known access gate for some malware or exploits; so, one can assume that without seeing those ads, you are less likely to get the malware it contains. But obviously, this cannot be the absolute malware protection.

To be honest, an ad blocker extension protects you from malware only to some extent. It is true that it protects you from some types of malware. But it is false to assume it protects you from any type. Moreover, rumor has it that ad blocker extensions can pose some complications.

Which begs the question: if it’s not full protection and you can also expect complications… Should you give it a try?

If you ask us, it depends on whether those complications outweigh the benefits of keeping malware at a bay. We say they don’t and you should give ad blockers a try. Of course, not before you get to know them properly and know what to expect.

Coming up next, we’re going to answer all these questions and make a clear picture. For that, we’ll have to delve into the specifics of these browsing extensions. Let’s see exactly what’s in it for you…

What an ad blocker browser extension means

Extensions, by definition, are small software programs. Developed on HTML, CSS or JavaScript web technologies, they customize a user’s browsing experience.

As opposed to other programs, extensions will always target a single purpose. Sure, multiple components or a wider functionality may characterize an extension. But only as long as they all support its main purpose.

From this perspective, there are so many extensions out there. Thousands of different options to choose from. All catered around a specific purpose. Easy to categorize by customization, entertainment, productivity, shopping, etc.

Ad blocker browser extensions, in particular, are small software programs designed to block the display of ads. Not just any ads, the ads you would normally see when browsing the web or accessing particular websites.

How does an ad blocker extension work?

Ad blockers either partly alter or completely remove the advertising content from an internet page. How can such an extension tell which of the webpage’s scripts are ads, you wonder?

Well, an ad blocker has the job to look into the site’s scripts. It also comes with a built-in list of scripts that it should block. And it compares the scripts it finds during the scanning with its database. If they match, it means the script belongs to an ad. And it will prevent it from loading.

As suggested, their main focus is currently on the truly annoying types of ads. Pop-ups and oversized banners. So, Google Adwords ads might still be visible in some cases. That’s partly because some ad blockers consider them relevant and useful to the user. Partly because the developers of that ad blocker were paid by Google.

From one ad blocker extension to another, there are certain differences regarding the blacklisted content. Some may disallow the above-mentioned ads. Others may walk the extra mile and block embedded advertising trackers. Like the ones indicating how long you’ve stayed on that page. Or what other pages of the same website you visited.

Depending on what it blocks and how it was built, the consequences vary. In some cases, you might see something else displayed on that area of the page. In other cases, you might look at some broken links or just holes in the page.

malware protection with adblocker

What are the advantages of using an ad blocker?

By far the first advantage that crosses people’s minds about running an adblocker? The chance to surf the web without any interruptions or annoying distractions.

But as you might recall, we started this article from a different perspective, addressing a common debate topic.

Ad blocker extension protects you from malware. True or false?

We hinted it’s a YES, which helps us add malware protection to the list of benefits. And believe us, we’re going to detail on this topic in an instant.

Before that, allow us to throw in a couple of extra benefits. Because by using an ad blocker, you’re getting a lot more than seamless navigation. You can also expect to enjoy:

  • More privacy, as advertisers can no longer track your user behavior;
  • Shorter page load times, as the browser no longer needs to run the ads’ scripts and upload their content;
  • Enhanced battery life, as your device takes up less battery to display less content during web surfing.

Now, did enhanced security raise your interest in the first place? If so, you’ll want to know more about how an ad blocker extension protects you from malware.

How can it prevent some types of malware from getting to you?

So, malvertising has become a big thing. These days, hackers are less willing to try lure you onto their shady websites. Instead, they hook you where you expect less, on mainstream websites.

They infiltrate within various ad networks. And use it to promote some digital ads that hide malware. Even some of the most popular websites out there may contain such traps. And that’s one of the reasons why malvertising is so effective.

People don’t even suspect they could get into trouble. After all, they just click on an ad from a website that they trust. And that they’ve been using for years, without any problems. So, they confidently follow the ads suggested on their favorite publications because they feel safe in there. What happens next is something you hopefully won’t have to find out.

But do you remember what we’ve discussed in a previous article? Sometimes, simply visiting such a website can infect your device with malware. It’s called drive-by or exploit attack and it facilitates automatic malware download and run on a user’s device.

That’s right, automatic means you don’t need to do anything while on that website. You read an article or watch a video, without clicking on any ad. And while you do so, the malware is downloading and self-executing on your device.

The simple act of running an ad’s script can facilitate the entire above. Which is why if you block the ad script from running, you block the malware. It’s a no brainer.

Just to recap…

Users can get malware in two unexpected ways. Either by clicking on ads from websites they trust. Or by simply accessing a compromised web page. Either way, not seeing – as in blocking the browser from displaying ads – can save the day.

Furthermore, some ad blockers can even prevent you from accessing malicious domains. If it’s something already blacklisted in their database, your access to that specific domain will be blocked.

Before you get too excited, however, stay with us for a little showcase of the other side of the coin…

ad blocker extension

What are the complications that an ad blocker extension can bring?

In advertising, they say that whenever a product is free, the user becomes the product. Advertisers compete for your time and attention. And that is why you will find a lot of free content online. In the light of this perspective, many voices condemn the use of ad blockers. Apparently, they undermine the way that the web is supposed to work. And some content creators already retaliate by blocking the access of those who use ad blockers.

Content restrictions are, however, just one of the negative aspects that ad blockers may pose.

Another potential drawback is that certain ad blockers still allow certain types of advertising content. It isn’t just Google that pays ad blockers not to block its ads. Other companies do it too. So, ad-free gets a slightly different meaning, all of a sudden.

In some instances, an ad blocker can even block content unrelated to advertising. Like the shopping carts of some online retailers. While one can manually whitelist that retailer’s website, it’s still extra hassle.

Last but not least, some of the ad blockers that spare you from the advertiser’s tracking aren’t completely honest. They do their own tracking, which you’re not going to like. At least if you’re someone who cares about privacy

To what extent will an ad blocker NOT protect you from malware?

If you know a thing or two about malware and viruses, you know enough not to put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, you cannot expect an ad blocker extension to protect you from all the malware. That’s because hackers don’t rely on ads only to spread malware.

For any other type of malware out there, running an ad blocker won’t make a difference.

But taking everything from above into account, the conclusion is pretty obvious. As long as you don’t put all your trust into it, an ad blocker extension is still a valuable tool in your protection arsenal. Just don’t make it your only protection tool!