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Government spyware is another reason to use an ad blocker

It seems unlikely that ad blockers will play a defensive role in the fight against spyware, but new reports shed new light on how spyware makers are weaponizing online ads to allow governments to conduct surveillance.

Spyware makers are reportedly able to use banner ads to target and covertly infect specific targets.

One of the startups developing ad-based spyware infection systems is Intellexa, the European company that developed the Predator spyware. Predator provides real-time access to the entire contents of the target phone.

In 2022, Intellexa launched a proof-of-concept system called Aladdin that could plant spyware on mobile phones through online ads, according to documents seen by Israeli news outlet Haaretz. The documents include a demonstration of Aladdin’s system, which contains a technical explanation of how the spyware infects its targets, as well as examples of malvertising that “seems to target graphic designers and activists with job opportunities through which the spyware is introduced to them.” equipment,” Haaretz reported.

It’s unclear whether the Aladdin has been fully developed or sold to a government customer.

Haaretz revealed last year that another private Israeli company called Insanet had successfully developed an ad-based infection system capable of targeting individuals within ad networks.

Online advertising helps website owners, including this website owner, generate revenue. But online ad exchanges can be abused to push malicious code to target devices.

Malware, commonly known as malvertising, is spread by injecting malicious code into ads displayed on websites on computer and mobile browsers. Most of these attacks rely on some interaction with the victim, such as clicking a link or opening a malicious file.

But the global ubiquity of online advertising has greatly increased the scope for government clients to use stealth spyware to target individuals, including their critics.

While no phone or computer is completely immune to hackers, ad blockers can effectively stop malicious ads and ad-based malware before they hit your browser.

As the name suggests, ad blockers prevent ads from displaying in your web browser. Ad blockers not only hide ads but prevent the underlying website from loading them in the first place. This is also good for privacy, as it means ad exchanges can’t use tracking codes to see which sites users visit while browsing the web. Ad-blocking software also works on mobile phones.

Security experts have long recommended using ad blockers to prevent malvertising attacks. In 2022, the FBI said in a public service announcement that it would use ad blockers as an online safety precaution.

“Everyone should block ads” Tweet Citizen Lab senior researcher John Scott-Railton investigated government spyware in response to a Haaretz report. “This is a safety issue.”


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