Security

If you downloaded one of these 5 Chrome ad blockers, you could have been hacked

The ad blockers, which can take over users' browsers, were removed from the Chrome Store after being downloaded 20 million times.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Five malicious ad blockers found in the Google Chrome Store had already been downloaded 20 million times before Google removed them. — Adguard, 2018
  • Users should not download an extension unless they trust the author. — Adguard, 2018

Google removed five fake ad blockers from the Chrome Store after they were flagged by a researcher, but they had already been downloaded more than 20 million times.

The malicious ad blockers were discovered by Andrey Meshkov, co-founder of Adguard, who detailed his findings in a blog post. While he noted that hackers have long created cloned versions of popular ad blockers, they have grown more sophisticated.

These criminals still use simple rip-offs of popular products, with a few lines of code added by the "authors," Meshkov wrote in the post. But instead of using similar names (like "Adguard Hardline" or "Adblock Plus Premium"), they spam keywords into the extension's description, trying to move it to the top search results and increase the likelihood of getting a victim to download it.

SEE: Security awareness and training policy (Tech Pro Research)

Cloning real ad blockers and adding malicious features to them has become a popular tactic for cybercriminals, as noted by our sister site ZDNet. For example, in 2017, a researcher discovered a fake Adblock Plus Chrome extension that tricked 37,000 users into installing it.

Fake ad blockers hide malicious code inside jQuery, a well-known JavaScript library, according to the post. The code sends back information to its server about the websites a victim visits. It then receives command scripts from the remote server that are executed and can change your browser's behavior in any way.

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

The following five ad blockers were found to use this malicious approach, according to the post:

  1. AdRemover for Google Chrome™ (10M+ users)
  2. uBlock Plus (8M+ users)
  3. Adblock Pro (2M+ users)
  4. HD for YouTube™ (400K+ users)
  5. Webutation (30K+ users)

Meshkov reported these findings to Google on Tuesday. By Wednesday, all five fake ad blockers were removed.

To best protect yourself, look very closely at any extension before you install it, Meshkov said in the post. You should check who the author of the extension is, and avoid installation if you cannot confirm that they are trusted.

Also see

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Image: Adguard

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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