How to steer clear of malicious in-text advertising

2013-06-16 08:00

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What do you do when, suddenly, random words on the web pages you visit begin to appear as hyperlinks?

You’re browsing the internet, as you usually do, but all of a sudden, certain random words on the web pages you visit are hyperlinked. It might seem normal at first, as many websites, including those of news organisations such as City Press, at times make use of in-text linking to direct readers to other pages for further information.

But when you hover over these “random” words appearing to be links on the page, a spam advertisement like this pops up: “Answer this (1) question and claim an iPhone 4S.”

If this is happening on your web browser, you’re most likely a victim of malicious in-text advertising, often referred to as the “Text Enhance virus”.

According to, an antivirus and malware-removal software company, in-text web advertising is “a form of bundled flash adware (categorised as a browser hijacker) that attaches to internet browsers as an extension and cookie without user consent”.

A screenshot of in-text advertising. This is what it would look like if your browser has picked up an adware extension., an online dictionary specialising in plain-language definitions for computer and internet technology terminology, cites two definitions for the term ‘adware’. It may be described as free software (freeware) with advertisements embedded in the application.

In this case, it’s considered a legitimate alternative offered to consumers who do not wish to pay for software. An example of this can be seen in free smartphone apps, where developers profit primarily from in-app advertising rather than by direct sales to consumers.

The other use of the term, according to, is to describe the more dubious process where applications containing adware track your internet surfing habits to serve advertisements related to you.

This may also be considered to be a form of “spyware”, where user information is collected to display advertisements on web browsers.

Once adware moves into the spyware category, it becomes something you should avoid for privacy and security reasons.

Dominic White of Sensepost, an independent information-security service provider, says that while in-text adware is not a virus per se, it “violates website owners’ agency in choosing what content (advertising or otherwise) is displayed” and, by extension, the visitors of such websites.

“This example of in-text adware is a form of illicit advertising, where people are fooled into downloading some sort of browser extension, or add-on. Once this extension is installed in the browser, the in-text adware is active,” said White.

The extensions used in this particular approach, according to White, are custom written for the various web browsers available, including common ones such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.

And the more popular the browser, he says, the more susceptible it is to attracting an adware extension.

For example, you visit a website and are then greeted by a message informing you that in order to view the contents of the website, you must download an add-on. If you’re not careful, and go ahead with accepting to download and install the add-on, you run the risk of enabling adware in your browser.

Text Enhance is a company that facilitates this sort of advertising. According to its website, it’s “a full-service in-text advertising platform that provides high-quality traffic to advertisers, and easy-to-implement monetise options for publishers”.

So, by using the platform, advertisers can “buy traffic” and publishers can “sell traffic”. And by looking at the amount of other similar in-text advertising platforms available when doing a quick Google search, it’s clear that this is a thriving niche in the world of internet advertising.

White says that these kinds of platforms serve as “legitimate fronts” for more illicit activity that may be happening behind the scenes, where users’ online security becomes compromised.

For example, if it’s possible for some browser’s extensions to install a stand-alone program, it then becomes possible for these extensions to execute commands within users’ operating systems. This then increases your risk of falling victim to a range of cybercrimes.

Protect yourself

If you’re noticing in-text advertising popping up on your browser, follow these steps:

» Don’t agree to run or install add-ons/extensions or software from nonofficial sources

» Delete all your browser’s history, cookies and cache

» Download, install and run Adblock Plus, a trusted and free in-text ad blocker.

» Use an antivirus solution with antispyware support

Another example of in-text advertising

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