Protecting your website and your customers is paramount. You should know that Internet security is a major factor if you plan to establish an online presence. The threats from adware, malware, viruses, intrusive marketing infections, tracking cookies and spam are more prevalent than ever. The people who code malicious viruses, shady marketers and thieves are always willing to compromise your computer, site and unsuspecting customers just to make a buck! Your hosting company should provide you with adequate base-level security and backup options as well as the ability to upgrade your security if needed.
In the end, being aware is the best defense!
A Different Type of Internet Threat! Are Marketing monsters like Text-Enhance and others Ethical?
Sometimes it’s not a virus threat at all! Right now there is a threat that is affecting thousands if not millions of websites, web developers and end-users on the Internet. It is called “Text-Enhance” (Similar to “Coupon Connection” and other intrusive ad-ware infections that put intrusive ads on your web pages. These ads are attached to random text in your page creating hyperlinks to products and services. You may think this is normal but it is not. Unlike the professional services Google offers for developers to implement such as “AdSense” and “AdSense Custom Google Search” where a developer is well aware what he or she is doing and can opt-out or close their account, these marketing scams are like Ramora’s attaching themselves to a users computer and browser most often unknowingly to present ad’s and hopefully suck money from the infected user.
It is far more annoying than getting tons of junk mail, flyers on your porch and spam in your mailbox. If you are experiencing this phenomenon it can be very difficult to get rid of! These cookies, bots and spiders change names and come with aliases and are able to evade detection and removal through normal uninstall or Opt-Out functions. Chances are that you might have unknowingly installed it along with another program that you did want like Adobe’s Flash Player (one of the vehicles through-which this ActiveX style infection invades your system.)
This so-called opt-in program (infection) has what appears to be a fake website and a fake “Help Desk” site that sends out automated emails telling the person who is infected to enable third party cookies in order to opt-out?? This is very dangerous to your system and could make things worse by allowing other third party intrusions to further invade your system. What intelligent, professional Internet company would give that kind of advice in a world where personal information and protecting identity are at the forefront of World Wide Web Integrity? That alone should raise suspicion! Text-Enhance is being implemented on sites like Adobe’s plugin download site and the CNET Download site where millions of unsuspecting people go to download free, common software and plugins.
At CNET, the opt-in information is present for some of these types of malware/adware but you have to really pay attention in their “new” download interface which has 3-4 pages or more of offers before you get to your download installer so just be aware. With Adobe it is quite different. Millions of unsuspecting people TRUST and download the Flash plugin because Flash is predominant on the web when it comes to playing movies, games and animation files on the web. Most computers (PC) have the Flash ActiveX plugin pre-installed already. The problem is that Flash ActiveX is vulnerable to certain exploits, please see the list of links below to read up on Flash vulnerabilities.
It runs through cookies and ActiveX add-ons that hijack your browser(s), track your movements and habits on the Internet, sells or passes on your personal information and places “geo-aware-hyperlinks” on your pages text for you to click and buy products. I made up that grammatically incorrect term because the ad’s appear to know your geographical location and offer ad’s that are in your area as well as on the Internet, serious technology when you think about it.
For developers, it is a nightmare! There are thousands on the Internet discussing this issue and trying to resolve it. The term Opt-In implies you have been given a clear understanding of what you are opting in for without deceptive, hidden, cleverly designed or confusing information.
Embarrassing as it may be, I have had my personal computers infected by this infection and have made a video explaining how it works. I show how the infection piggy-backs on to the Adobe Flash player active-x and can be difficult to stop or get rid of if you don’t know what to look for. It is quite ingenious how they have bypassed virus protection and detection to market products. Which leads me to believe that these companies where the infection is downloaded from are either unknowingly or knowingly in on it as well as the companies sponsored in the ads. Why? The main reason is that pay-per-click-revenue is a big business. Companies battle over Internet traffic which in turn generates more and more potential for profit for them and the advertisers. Sadly isn’t it always about money over ethics?
As an emerging developer, AdSense user and Google member, I am so glad that Google does not use these tactics and better, sets a benchmark for other companies to follow!
Now I ran (3) test downloading and installing the plugin directly from the Adobe site, each time my system was infected with one or more of these intrusive infections (Text-Enhance or Coupon Connection) so I have completely uninstalled the latest Flash plugin from all of my computers and now use Firefox as my default browser with the Greasemonkey plugin for Firefox and running the “ViewTube Script” inside Greasemonkey. I have no problems viewing YouTube videos now without the Flash Plugin and can download the videos in different formats including MP4 and WebM.
As a backup to view more Flash content, I installed an archived version of Flash (version 10.3-67.3mb 3-5-2012) and have had no issues with text-enhance showing up on my pages. This tells me that the problem started in a version more recent but as of yet I have not taken the time to experiment with each version to determine which plugin (month/year) became vulnerable.
I also installed DivX to cover other different and emerging video formats and to become familiar with the DivX technology since it has the Flash plugin in it’s sights with the intent of taking it out of the equation. Flash is proprietary and a user MUST have the Flash plugin to view current content. This is not in the best interest of creating an open source format that everyone can view, which is the direction the web is going back to. I also disabled all third party cookies and increased my awareness so I examine everything I download very, very carefully and choose the cookies I want on my computer and from which site. Remember your virus software won’t detect marketing scams because they are not viruses. Sometimes you can actually find the weird program in your program list under Add/Remove Programs but you still need to uninstall the nefarious plugin for your browser too (all browsers you have installed.) From what I a have been reading though, it always seems to find a way back in to your system?
We can attack them back or at least their wallets by making a list of the companies who advertise with Text-Enhance and spread the word for people NOT to shop with them. Also contact these companies and tell them you are displeased with their choices in marketing their products through Text-Enhance and other intrusive marketing companies and that you won’t shop with them until they change their methods!
View the simulation video below where I demonstrate how Adobe’s latest Flash Player Plugin allows the infection to function and when disabled the infection goes away.