Even the NSA agrees: targeted ads are terrifying


Ad blockers. Maybe you like them, maybe you don’t think about it at all, but chances are, you know Someone who uses them. And it turns out that a growing number of these people are in the federal ranks.

Motherboard was the first to report on a new letter Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Wednesday that describes some of the federal agencies deploying ad blocking technology as well as ‘a fairly reasonable demand for agencies that are not currently active. board: use a fucking ad blocker. Please.

“I have urged successive administrations to respond more appropriately to surveillance threats, especially from foreign governments and criminals exploiting online advertising to hack federal systems,” Wyden wrote in the letter. And indeed, thanks to massive scandals like Cambridge Analytica and the small privacy scandals that continue to unfold in its wake, it seems some agencies are finally agreeing that targeted ads are terrifying. In 2018, the National Security Agency (NSA) issued public guidelines urging its ranks to block “unnecessary advertising web content.” In January of this year, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued similar guidelines for all federal agencies, urging officials to use ad blockers to protect against malware-laden ads, in particular.

“Adversaries can use carefully designed and tailored malicious advertisements as part of a campaign targeted against a specific victim, not just as broad-spectrum attacks,” the CISA guide reads.

This letter may be new, but the threat is certainly not. We’ve seen malicious ad campaigns targeting military bases in 2014, swing state voters in 2018 and, well, a bunch of us since then. When ads start to creep into all the digital avenues where we spend time online, it is only natural that ads containing malware or other shady material are on the rise as well.

As Wyden’s letter states, this includes “seemingly harmless online advertisements” which contain software designed to “steal, modify or erase sensitive government data, or record conversations by remotely activating a built-in microphone. computer “.

And then there are the many, many other privacy issues. Every ad loaded in a browser means more data is sent back to businesses on the other side, even if that ad is for something ridiculous that you would never have clicked on in a billion years. There are no hard and fast rules for what is sent in the so-called “bidstream” on the other side of this ad, but this usually includes details such as your location, IP address, and type of device. Ad blockers are far from perfect and can collect this kind of data about you as well, but at least you know what business is on the other side. The digital advertising ecosystem is an opaque and under-regulated mess, making it difficult to identify a shady advertising company scouring your data. When an ad blocking company does the same (or worse), at least you have a company you can be mad at and a browser extension you can remove.

It’s likely that the NSA has known all of this, and has known it for some time, which is why they were the first to jump on the ad blocking bandwagon. After all, this is the same agency that brought us Edward Snowden, and Snowden’s revelations about the entire NSA phone tracking empire. In the years that followed, that empire continued to grow, even after the passage of the Freedom Act of 2015 that gutted the way federal agencies mine telecommunications data. But that law applied to telecom operators, not to marketing or IT companies that mine the same data by design – and that made selling data to federal agencies a business in the years since Snowden’s revelations, and this business seems to be turning into a gangbuster. Hell, Wyden asked the NSA about this specific loophole less than a year ago, and they responded with… well, not responding.

Will ad blockers get in the way? Who knows! What we do know is that tech privacy laws in the United States are becoming increasingly fractured and ineffective – and the more we get stuck with this bleeding sore in tech policy, the more a browser extension looks like. a pretty weak bandage.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.