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Chances are that you have encountered a pop-up advertisement at some time in your online life. These pop-ups can appear out of nowhere and surprise you, and if you panic you may make a stupid mistake.
Often, these ads offer fake free goods, threaten you, falsely tell you of required updates, or redirect your browsing. None of these are behaviors you want to experience, so it’s wise to protect your browser of choice against these pop-up ads. Read on to find out how.
General Tips To Avoid Shady Websites
Be Careful Where You Visit
Even with an adequate, free antivirus program, a misinformed user can do a lot of harm to a computer. In his list of ways to stay safe without an antivirus, Danny highlighted that careful browsing habits are the key to keeping any system secure. It’s better to have a lousy antivirus with a discerning user than a premium suite of protection with someone who clicks on anything.
Trying to download video games for free online on shady websites, for instance, will usually lead to all sorts of pop-ups. You don’t have to risk that, however, as you can find plenty of premium games online legally at no cost. Therefore, it’s wise to know your sources. Don’t just Google “free screensavers;” try finding a list of cool ones from MakeUseOf or another website you know to be safe.
Links Can Be Deceiving
Okay, so you’re trying to be safe and watch where you visit. You want to install some software, so you search for Adobe Reader and get to this page:
Or one like this:
Neither of these pages are the Adobe Reader you’re looking for. Although both of the URLs contain the words Adobe and Reader, they’re still phonies. The first website uses the text after the “/?” to make you think you’re on the correct page; but you can place anything here and the page won’t change.
The second is simply a junk website that doesn’t even attempt to look real. Whenever you see pages like this that are primarily text and advertisements, leave them alone. If you’re truly not sure whether a download link is legitimate or not, use an aggregate site like FileHippo to find what you’re looking for.
It’s also worth noting that search engine ads shouldn’t be trusted. Google marks the first result or two as ads. but it’s easy to forget that when you’re in a hurry. Take the extra second to double-check that you’re on the real website when you download. Upon examination, the ad’s URL doesn’t look even close to what it should be, and you won’t be getting the real download from it.
Another type that you should be cautious of is the shortened URL. Since social networks like Twitter limit the amount of characters available per tweet, shortening huge URLs is essential in today’s world. However, they can also be used to disguise a malicious link.
If you’re ever asked to click on a short link, whether to download something or just out of curiosity, be extremely careful. It’s wise to use an unshortener tool to see where the link is going before you follow it. You’ll be able to tell if it leads into a mountain of advertisements.
Once you’ve reviewed (and put into practice) the broad tips to keep yourself safe, here’s what you should set up and double-check in each browser to dodge pop-ups.
For IE, head to the gear icon in the top-right, then click Internet Options.
Make sure that your homepage is something that you recognize. If it’s a weird search engine that pushes ad-filled websites to the top of its results, you’ll experience more pop-ups.
On the Privacy Tab, you’ll be able to adjust your pop-up blocker’s settings. Make sure it’s actually turned on, of course. If you click Settings, you’ll be able to adjust its aggressiveness. Medium should be fine, but if you’re experiencing lots of pop-ups and don’t mind having to bypass the blocker for legitimate ones, go ahead and try High mode.
Finally, check for any malicious add-ons that may be spawning ads. You’ll find this under the Programs tab. If you discover anything weird, simply click Disable to stop it.
To make sure you’re protected in Firefox, head to the three bars menu in the top left, followed by Options.
Once you’re in, check your homepage settings on the General tab. Again, it should be something you recognize. If you need a recommendation, we’ve covered some awesome start pages.
The Content page houses the pop-up blocker. Make sure it’s on; other than that you can’t change its intensity like in Internet Explorer.
While you’re here, it’s also a good idea to head to the Security tab and make sure that you are warned when sites try to install add-ons. This is an uncommon problem, but it’s always best to be safe. Also be sure that Firefox is blocking attack websites and forgeries for you; there’s no reason to turn these off.
An option you can enable that will stop sites from redirecting you is found in the Advanced tab, under the General header. If you check this option, Firefox will always ask for permission when a site tries to change. For most people, though, this behavior will get irritating, since many legitimate sites behave like this, and as such it isn’t worth the hassle.
Finally, don’t forget to check your add-ons. On the same menu where you found Options, choose Add-Ons and look for any that are shady or that you didn’t install.
For Chrome, we’ve already covered what to do to remove browser hijackers, and these are the same steps you should take to secure your browser against pop-ups. Besides what’s in this article, you’ll also want to double-check Chrome’s pop-up blocking settings. Head to the Settings menu after clicking the three-bar icon.
Once you’re there, head to “Content Settings…” under the Privacy header.
You’ll find the pop-up settings about halfway down. Like Firefox, it can only be toggled on or off.
If you’ve educated yourself about what sites you visit and taken advantage of your browser’s built-in protection, yet still have issues with pop-ups, you can try a stronger solution. Both of these browser add-ons will assist with defeating pop-ups.
Using AdBlock blocks ads and malware all over the Internet. By blocking nearly all online ads, you’ll naturally be rooting out pop-ups. However, extensions that block ads hurt the sites you love, including MakeUseOf, so you should think carefully before installing this nuclear solution. If you want to use AdBlock responsibly, you can create a whitelist of sites to allow ads and only block the bad ones.
Disconnect, which we covered previously, stops third-party tracking of your browsing by companies such as Facebook and Google. In the process, it also stops some ads. It may not block as many ads and pop-ups as AdBlock, but it’s still a step in the right direction.
Like AdBlock, though, Disconnect can be harmful to sites like ours, and James has laid out his opinions on why extensions like it are evil. Whether you choose to use AdBlock and Disconnect is up to you, but consider this: Is having to fight the occasional pop-up worth being a good citizen of the Internet?
If You Are Caught In A Pop-Up
Being caught in a nasty pop-up happens to the best of us. The next time one fills your screen, don’t panic. Keep calm and follow these steps.
- Do not download or click anything. No matter what type of ad you encounter, it’s important to first make sure that you do not comply with it. Ignore statements telling you your plugins are outdated; if you proceed and install the malware it’s offering you, you’re going to have a bigger issue than an outdated plugin.
And of course, never input personal information such as your address or financial info into a pop-up.
As you can see below, this particular pop-up went as far as to get a download ready for me, which could fool you if you were looking for a legitimate download already. Keep an eye out for potentially harmful file extensions when downloading, especially .exe files.
If you’re concerned about a plugin, after you safely close the ad use a site like Mozilla’s plugin check to see if you actually need to update Flash Player or anything like it.
- Try to close the browser window or tab. Traditionally, most pop-ups open a new browser window, but with the advent of tabbed browsing ads will sometimes pop up in a new tab. If you notice a random new tab open when you’re visiting a website, try to close it right away by clicking its “X” or right-clicking it and choosing “Close Tab.”
- If the pop-up refuses to let you close it, use the Task Manager to kill the process. If you’re using Chrome, which keeps each tab as a separate process, you can use the Shift + Escape shortcut to open Chrome’s task manager, or head to the three-bar menu and choose Tools > Task Manager. Choose the tab that contains the pop-up and click End Process in the bottom-right corner.
If you’re not using Chrome, you’ll have to open up the Windows Task Manager by pressing the Control + Shift + Escape shortcut, or by typing Task Manager into the Windows search bar. Find your browser and kill it off. The pop-up below had lockdown on its tab; no matter how you try to close it the dialogue kept coming up. Using Chrome’s task manager, I was able to defuse it.
Still Getting Pop-Ups? Check For Malware
If you’re browsing safe websites and still running into a barrage of pop-ups, your computer could be infected with malware. Usually, if you’ve checked your browser for malicious extensions as outlined above, you’ll be in the clear, but especially nasty malware can re-install its browser add-ons and spawn tons of ads.
If you suspect this has happened to you, check out our ten steps to take with malware, as well as three things to check after you’ve finished cleaning it up. Our complete malware removal guide will prove helpful if you don’t know where to start.
Pop Till You Drop
Pop-up ads can be frustrating, confusing, and scary. Once you know how to avoid them, however, you won’t have any issues coming away from them unharmed. Just remember to be careful where you visit and never install anything that a website tells you to. It’s always wise to visit the website in question yourself, just as you should never click a link in an email telling you that you need to re-input your password.
It’s not a bad idea to use a pop-up blocker testing website to make sure your tools are doing their job. And while you’re brushing up on security, be sure to learn about ransomware and other forms of phishing so you’ll be ready for anything.
Do you have issues with pop-ups? What other solutions have you tried to defeat them? Speak up in the comments!