What is a Pop-Up
April 19, 2023
Initially, pop-up windows are the alternative way of notification. Instead of the banner, or the app icon change, you receive a small and convenient alert in the corner of your screen. It has full information and minimal details that can distract you from your work. They quickly gained popularity, and you could set up notifications from the forums you used to chat on, weather forecast sites, or news tabloids. Later, some of the online retailers applied pop-up notifications to tell the users about upcoming sales or cool discounts available for the user of the goods added to the cart earlier.
However, with time flow, crooks who used to earn money on arbitering the traffic discovered that it is possible to show the ads in pop-up notifications without asking the user. Exactly, they can ask him sometimes - but those requests are often disguised as “prove you are not a robot” or “click “Allow” to display the contents”. Needless to say, users who want to get the info they are looking for will likely click through these dialog windows. Later, these sites will begin sending them notifications, and the more sites with such a sly trap the user visits - the more massive will be the pop-up spam.
The other way of pop-ups appearing is malware activity, particularly adware or browser hijacker. In that case, you do not have to approve the pop-up appearance - malware does everything. A specific procedure requests the pop-up ads in the web browser configuration file. Aforementioned malware types modify that config, adding the paths to the pop-up sources they need. As a result, you have many notifications out of the blue. Since their contents are even more unpredictable, you can expose your PC to a bigger threat.
Pop-up notification types
Pop-up ads/notifications can be divided into 3 types - legitimate, questionable and illegal. This divide is conditional since, in arbitrary cases, one can easily obtain the characteristics of another.
Legit pop-ups may be defined as ones issued by a legit site and consciously accepted by you. No tricky “robot preventions” are allowed, as well as the attempts to disguise the site of origin as the other, well-known one. These pop-ups will not give you any negative effects besides annoyance - in the case when you allow too many sources and now receive 10-15 notifications each minute.
Questionable pop-ups refer to ones that are offered to you in the form of a captcha or the action required for content displaying. It is obvious that neither anti-DDoS measures nor monetisation tricks can effectively feature the pop-ups. This trick is done with a single target - to gain the commission for each user who watched the ad, the so-called pay-per-view model. That gives a miserable sum for a single ad, but when you show over a hundred banners to thousands of deceived users - you receive a substantial sum of money. Contrary to legitimate pop-up notifications, questionable ones can trick you into much worse things - like phishing sites or malware. But more likely, it will just be spam advertising with a notorious frequency of notifications.
Illegal pop-up ads are ones that appear after the malware activity. Unfortunately, web browsers are not secure against such attacks, so one day, you may discover that your browser suddenly starts showing you dozens of ads per minute. And you cannot even stop this storm - there are no visible records in the notification settings. Moreover, the contents you will see in those ads are at least unwanted. No legit companies will have a deal with malware-related advertisements, so those pop-ups will likely contain something far away from legitimate. Fraudulent shop promotions, ads on dubious sites, and untrustworthy programs are normal for illegal pop-ups. And the risks grow correspondingly.
Are pop-up notifications dangerous?
As we have already mentioned, only questionable and illegal pop-ups are hazardous. Exactly, they are not dangerous themselves, but their contents are. In case when adware is guilty of pop-up appearance, you are also exposed to the risks related to this malware type. However, pop-ups usually carry even more danger - since clicking on them may lead to malware installation and fraudulent or phishing sites.
In some situations, questionable pop-ups maybe even dangerous since you believe in their legitimacy. Gaining trust is very important in any cyberattack - when the victim believes you, it is straightforward to make them do what you want. Crooks know that and will never neglect the ability to increase the efficiency of their malware. You may even see the banners similar to the search queries you did recently - but these ads will still be malicious.
How to keep your PC protected?
Pop-up ads are not as dangerous as spyware, ransomware, or other “classic” malware. It is annoying and obtrusive, but not malicious. Moreover, ignoring them all already decreases the danger by orders of magnitude. But even seeing a pop-up notification several times per minute can make some people mad. Let’s see how to prevent their excessive quantity, and remove them completely if they are unwanted.
- 1. Keep an eye on what notifications you allow. Most excessive pop-ups these days belong to questionable types. You don't want to apply them, but they are disguised as something else, so you click “Allow” without any doubt. Only such a form of notification enabling must raise suspicion and force you to search for another source of information.
- 2. Review the enabled notifications if there are too many of them. Each browser lists the sites that can send you pop-up notifications. When you are tired of their enormous number, check the corresponding section in settings, and disable the sites you do not want to see.
- 3. Reset browser settings. The more radical way of disabling unwanted pop-ups is also required for fixing the browser after adware activity. That action makes your browser as good as new, so you do not have to spend your time searching for the site that spams you in the list we mentioned above.
- 4. Use anti-malware software. When you struggle to deal with pop-ups manually, it is better to make it with the software that is created for such tasks. Anti-malware programs can effectively detect the changes done to your browser and trace these alterations to the malware that caused them. Then, you will need to reset your browser to ensure that nothing will bother you anymore.
Frequently Asked Questions
In general, pop-up ads are not very safe, and you should avoid clicking on them. If you see a pop-up that looks legit and offers a thing you really need, it is better to check the advertised site by yourself, without clicking the ad. You should especially avoid pop-ups telling you that your computer is "slow" or "infected," as well as pop-ups that promise something "too good to be true" (e.g., "You won...", "You are the millionth visitor...")
" Clickbait", "articles" with vague headlines that encourage you to click on them (e.g., "Celebrity X found dead, click here to read the whole story", "10 ways to save $1,000; you won't believe it"). Pop-ups rarely do what they promise—almost all pop-ups link to phishing/survey sites, fraudulent websites that mimic the real ones.