Pop-ups are the bane of an internet user's existence...
We find them annoying, you find them annoying, surely everyone finds them annoying. So why do we still get them?
Pop-ups are new windows which can literally "pop up" on top of your existing browser window. Advertisers originally intended them to be used as a way to get your attention but users soon became frustrated with the way their screens were being hijacked. This caused most leading software providers and all of the major producers of web browsers to implement pop-up blockers.
Pop-ups can be used for a wide variety of reasons including displaying helpful information or showing videos. On some sites, they're also used to explain aspects of a page so that you don't nee to navigate away from it. Pop-ups can also come from legitimate marketers. These are called Relevant pop-up ads and often hover in an elegant overlay on your page in order to make them less invasive.
These ads are unlike the common pop-up spam that we see because they are contextually relevant and far more discreet. This makes a huge difference as research by SurveyMonkey suggests that "too many ads" is the number 1 reason users would block a website from their search results.
The First pop up
The second origin concerns a man called Ethan Zuckerman, who claims to have created it whilst working as a designer and programmer for a company called tripod.com. Ethan wanted to help the advertising model that was funding the company. This model analysed users' personal homepages so that specifically targeted ads could be sent to them.
In a recent interview, Ethan said, "It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content." He also insists that his intentions were good, which leads us to wonder...
Why are pop-ups dangerous?
Pop-ups are designed to try to get users to click on them. This is where the danger begins. Imagine you are hard at work and a pop up appears attempting to steal your focus. Your initial response may be to search for an 'X' or a button that can 'close' or 'cancel' but there is never any guarantee that the button will do what it says.
Clicking close on a pop up can easily open more pop-ups or download malware to your device. In this way, hackers are capable of using predictable human behaviour to make you more likely to click on a malicious link.
Another type of pop up aims to trick you into purchasing the potentially dangerous software they are associated with. These programs are typically fake antivirus, anti spyware, anti malware or registry cleaners and are accompanied by fake Windows system messages claiming that you have infected files or a large number of problems with your device. These types of pop up are more commonly known as Scareware.
Recently a new type of pop-up called a pop-under has emerged which opens a new window and then hides it underneath your active window. This type of pop-up aims to avoid the typical behaviour associated with pop-ups by not disrupting your attention until you have finished your current task and closed your window.
This makes it more difficult to know which website opened the pop-under and can also make the pop-under resemble a trustworthy website.
Tips to avoid popups
- Avoid clicking on unidentified links
- Be careful which sites you visit
- Turn your Browser security controls up
- Use an Antivirus and a Pop-Up blocker.
What to do when caught in a pop-up?
When you see a pop-up there are a few simple rules to remember to ensure you keep your precious data safe. In this list, we have highlighted some browsing habits that can be combined with your antivirus software package in order to create an environment where malware cannot thrive.
- Do not download anything
This may seem like common sense but a lot of pop-ups are built on the notion that users love freebies and will ignore good practice to get them. Ignore statements telling you that you need this software to clear a virus because proceeding to download will install the malware program they have concealed.
- Do not click anything
Even if the pop-up is not offering you software to download, it is still not safe to click on them. Many pop-ups will claim that you have won something and simply need to "click to proceed". These work in the same way as magic tricks by aiming your attention elsewhere whilst you click on a disguised link that takes you to their malicious page. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid clicking on any page that you did not explicitly open yourself and be alert, making sure to never input your personal details such as address or card details into a pop-up.
- Close the window
Once you notice a new window open without your permission, it is best to close it. Try to identify the correct way to close it by clicking on the "x" (or right clicking and selecting "Close Tab" if it was a tabbed pop-up). This can often be tricky due to the sheer amount of pop-ups with multiple fake "x" buttons. In this situation, it can be useful to know how to use the Task manager to kill the pop-up's process. This is especially easy on the chrome browser where you can either choose "Tools > Task Manager" on the Hamburger menu or you can use the "Shift + Esc" shortcut to open the Task Manager. Once the menu opens, you want to choose the tab that contains the pop-up and then click "End Process" to close the window.
Pop-ups can be annoying, confusing, frustrating and even quite dangerous, but once you've learned how to close and avoid them, they become less of a minefield and more of an inconvenient obstacle course. Just remember to be proactive and careful when surfing the web, and to never install anything that a website tells you to. It is always useful to use a pop-up blocker and an antivirus combination to ensure your safety and to remember these three takeaways