Category Archives: Internet

Web advertising networks: the next malware attack vector?

Researchers speaking recently at the Black Hat Briefings in Las Vegas showed that the Javascript used by most advertising networks could be compromised by a malicious third party. The malicious code could then run in any web browser configured to allow advertising.

Hold on. Wouldn’t the people responsible for the advertising networks and the associated Javascript notice the problem and fix it? Possibly. But not always. If you’re like me, you’ve seen more than a few messed up web ads. A seriously broken web ad can prevent a web page from displaying properly or cause it to load very slowly. It’s one of the many reasons why people use script blocking technology like NoScript.

It’s difficult to predict whether malware purveyors will start using the ad networks like this. But if they do, you can bet we’ll see a surge in script and ad-blocking software installations. Since advertising is the primary source of revenue on the web, this will get the attention of the advertisers, who would hopefully then institute better quality control.

The back-room wrangling that dictates your online experience

Okay, so this isn’t exactly news, in the sense of being new. But it is interesting. And it most definitely does matter, to anyone who uses the Internet.

If you’ve ever wondered why Youtube videos are suddenly buffering, or why that download is taking so long, you probably assumed that the server was overloaded, or your Internet provider was having infrastructure issues. But there may be a deeper cause.

A handful of organizations – mostly commercial in nature – provide the backbone of the Internet: the network hardware that makes up the core of the net. Since its inception, these organizations have engaged in negotiations about how they move data amongst themselves. When the commercial web got off the ground, these negotiations began to involve large amounts of money. As with all negotiations, all parties try to get what they want for the least amount of effort and expense. The difference is that in these negotiations, when one party is unhappy with the results, they can make their feelings known by downgrading the service they provide.

All of these negotiations happen without much fanfare, and the fights ebb and flow according to changing technology and the rise and fall of the fortunes of individual companies. The net effect for Internet consumers is inexplicable changes in Internet speeds.

Ars Technica has a terrific overview of this process and its ramifications. It’s a long read, but well worthwhile. Maybe you can read it while you’re wating for that Youtube video to finish buffering…