20 million Chrome users are fooled into downloading fake ad blockers

Google removed a number of fake ad blockers from its Chrome store after an AdGuard researcher discovered that these extensions concealed malicious scripts. The code hidden within these fake ad blocking extensions was used to collect information about a user’s browsing session and to change the browser’s behavior.

Some of these extensions were popular, with one fake ad blocker garnering as many as 10 million downloads. Even the least popular extension, Webutation, had 30,000 downloads.

These malicious ad-blocking extensions merely copied the legitimate ad blocking code from real ad blockers and added its own harmful one.

“All the extensions I’ve highlighted are simple rip-offs with a few lines of code and some analytics code added by the ‘authors,’” AdGuard’s Andrew Meshkov wrote. “Instead of using tricky names they now spam keywords in the extension description trying to make to the top search results.”

Given that most casual users don’t really pay attention to the name of an extension as long as it was somewhere near the top of their search results, it’s easy to deceive a large number of Chrome users to download fake ad blockers. Combined, all five of the flagged — and now removed — ad blockers generated 20 million downloads, according to AdGuard.

“Basically, this is a botnet composed of browsers infected with the fake adblock extensions. The browser will do whatever the command center server owner orders it to do,” he wrote.

The malicious code sends the data it collects, including your browsing information, to a remote server. The server then sends a command to an extension that is concealed inside an innocent image, and the commands are executed as scripts to change the way your browser behaves.

To protect yourself, AdGuard recommends that you only download browser extensions from trusted authors and companies. If you don’t know the author, Meshkov recommends skipping the extension. Even if the extension comes from a trusted author, the software could be sold to another party in the future, which could then change the intended use or behavior of the extension.

If you’re looking for an ad block, be sure to check out our list of recommendations for some of the best ad blocking extensions.

Computing

You’ll soon be able to scribble all over PDFs on your Chromebook

Chrome OS users may soon be able to doodle all over their PDF documents with the possible addition of a new feature in Chrome OS' PDF viewer. The annotation feature is expected to allow users to hand draw or write over their documents.
Computing

Firefox 64 helps keep your numerous tabs under control

Mozilla officially launched Firefox 64 by placing new features into the laps of its users including new tab management abilities, intelligent suggestions, and a task manager for keeping Firefox's power consumption under control.
Computing

Here’s how to install Windows on a Chromebook

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so, just in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only…
Computing

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.
Computing

You can now get a Surface Laptop 2 for $800 at the Microsoft Store

Along with deals on other variants, starting configurations of Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 are now going for $800 online at its retail store, cutting $200 from its usual $1,000 starting price. 
Computing

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.
Computing

Canada’s winters inspired a startup to warm homes with cryptomining heat waste

Cryptomining may be the key to untold riches and the future of currency, but it’s also an environmental nightmare. Heatmine, thinks it has the answer, but it could mean bolting a mining rig onto every home and business in the country.
Computing

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Computing

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.
Deals

The best MacBook deals for December 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Computing

How to connect AirPods to your MacBook

If you have new AirPods, you may be looking forward to pairing them with your MacBook. Our guide will show you exactly how to connect AirPods to MacBook, what to do if they are already paired with a device, and more.
Computing

Hitting ‘Check for updates’ in Windows 10 opts you into beta releases

Users who are careful about keeping their system updated should watch out -- Microsoft revealed this week that clicking the Check for updates button in Windows can opt you in to testing beta code.