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Issue #816: March 12-18, 2023

Q: AdBlock suddenly began appearing while web browsing using Edge. I don’t remember ever installing it, so I decided to uninstall it. (I like to pretend that I have some control over this machine!) I couldn’t find it in Programs. Eventually I discovered it in something called Extensions and removed it. Whatever is Extensions? And how does stuff get there?

 – Marianne K.
Destin, Florida

A: I congratulate you on catching this change to your system, Marianne.  A lot of people whom I know expect their system to “just work” but they have no idea how it works, or what it looks like when it is working, versus when something anomalous is happening.  I encourage everybody to get to know your computer this well, since the first step towards fixing a problem is recognizing that one is occurring in the first place.

AdBlock is exactly what the name implies: it is a piece of software that is intended to block annoying pop-up advertisements from appearing on your screen in the middle of your browsing session.  In fact, if you Google the name, you’ll find that AdBlock is among the most popular add blockers currently available.

Since AdBlock is legitimate software, and not malware (a trojan, worm, virus, etc.) it seems like the only way that it should get installed is, well, if you install it.  However, (and I’m not saying I’ve seen this with AdBlock) I’ve seen occasions where legitimate software is offered during the installation of some larger application, and people have a tendency to click through the dialogs that are displayed during an install without reading them, and inadvertently accept the installation, never knowing that it occurred.  There is another practice that is more common with malware, but is used by a few legitimate vendors, which is to pop up a dialog as you browse, saying something like “Your ad blocking software is missing or out of date.  Click here to fix the problem.”  Again, I’m not saying that AdBlock does this, but you don’t seem to know how it got on your machine, so I’m providing a couple possibilities.

Now, from what I understand about the way AdBlock is installed, it should have appeared on your list of installed programs, and I’m surprised to hear that it didn’t.  That makes me wonder whether it was actually AdBlock, or whether it might have been malware merely calling itself by that name.  That would certainly go a long way towards explaining the mystery of how it got installed.

Extensions, or rather Browser Extensions, are small software modules that extend the capabilities or features of your browser.  In this case, the intent would be to add an ad blocking capability into the browser, which works without forcing you, the user, to turn it  on/off, or generally need to interact with it in any way.  Extensions can include cookies, modifications to the look and feel of the browser, automatic modifications to the styles of websites you visit, and a whole lot more.  One of the problems with this is that almost any of the above-mentioned features can also be “weaponized” and misused as malware.

As for your last question, stuff gets there by either nefarious means, such as drive-by malware downloads, or more commonly, through ignorance, in the form of a user willingly clicking on a link or dialog without understanding the ramifications.  This is the primary reason why you should not run your computer with an account that has Administrative privileges enabled.

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