FBI now recommends using an ad blocker when searching the web

Cybercriminals are behind ads designed to look like messages from real brands and companies, according to the US security agency FBI (whose agent is pictured) (FBI)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States advises people to use ad blockers as part of a warning about the threat of online scams.

In one Message of public interest, the security agency’s Internet complaints department, says ad blocking extensions can help protect users from fraudulent online ads that appear in search results. Cybercriminals are behind such ads which look like messages from real brands and companies, he says.

Dupes, which can sometimes appear at the top of a search results page, contain links to fake websites or malware downloads that attempt to pinch your login or financial information.

By endorsing ad blockers, which scrub or hide content identified as advertisements on websites, the FBI is effectively endorsing a divisive tool that many Internet publishers (including news sites) actively discourage visitors to use.

As such, his warning illustrates just how perilous the advertising environment on the Internet has become. Online ad sellers such as Google and Microsoft are locked in a relentless duel with cybercriminals, who attempt to create thousands of accounts to bypass their security systems when buying ads.

Although they constantly scour their services for scams using ad verification and certification policies, it seems that some fakes keep infiltrating their nets.

In July, researchers at Malwarebytes discovered that bad actors were creating fake search ads that mimicked websites such as YouTube, Amazon, and Facebook. Earlier this year, Google removed ads that impersonated customer support accounts from internet providers, including BT and Sky.

More broadly, there have been numerous scams in the UK since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. These include phishing messages sent by e-mail and SMS; cryptocurrency scams that falsely claim to be endorsed by celebrities; fraudulent calls from abroad; and bogus offers around major trade events such as black friday.

US security agencies practice what they preach: the National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), FBI and other members of the US intelligence community are reportedly already using ad-blocking technologies based on the network, according to a copy of a letter sent by Congress and shared with the tech news site Motherboard.

The FBI’s other tips for staying safe online echo the advice offered by Trading Standards in the UK. These include verifying the authenticity of an ad by ensuring that the URL it contains is free of typos and other errors, and searching for businesses and financial institutions by entering the full address of their website.

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