Thursday, September 03, 2015

August 2015 was when the Web broke and the red mist descended

The World Wide Web is broken. It's been breaking for the last few years, but I saw red a week ago

  • when pages on almost all sites were taking 30 seconds plus to load, with widgets and content being dragged in from dozens of sites that I wasn't visiting
  • when 90% of what I was seeing was adverts
  • And, most of all, when stories starting emerging of malvertising - malware, spyware and ransomware all being spread through various advertising chains used on high profile web sites

"Enough is enough", I thought and I asked around as to whether there was an easy way to just block ads once and for all, for my family's farm of laptops and PCs, to keep us all safe. The unanimous reply was "uBlock Origin" - look under 'Extensions' in your web browser and you'll find it. It's free and fast and has dramatic effects.

Typically, an ad-heavy/laden web page in 2015 might take up to minute to load and will contain content from multiple ad servers, any of which might be compromised and there's nothing you can do about it.

In contrast, with 'uBlock Origin' installed in Safari, Chrome or Firefox, the same page typically finishes loading in under seconds and with precisely zero unwanted visual content and precisely zero risk of 'malvertising' hitting your computers.

Job done.

Of course, the very fact that users have to knowledgeable enough to install something like this means that the Web as a vehicle for the masses is completely broken. To them, it's a place where everything takes an age, where adverts get in the way and where many are being taken over as 'bots' without their knowledge or hit by ransomware, encrypting their files. It's a disaster, and no wonder why more and more people use their smartphone as their main computer - it's just much safer and quicker.

Is there a solution? Ideally sites should stop being so greedy for ad money that they stuff every square millimetre of their page design with adverts. Ideally they should vet their ad suppliers better. Ideally there should be server-side scanning of such ads for malicious content. But I don't hold my breath for any of that.

Which means that more and more people are turning to ad-blockers as the only way to survive. The ONLY way, at the moment. The open Web as we knew it is dead, corrupted by an over-use of on-screen ad panes, pop-ups, scripted interactivity and vulnerabilities.

"But Steve", comes the obvious question, "Most of the sites you write for (including this blog!) have adverts!" Which is true, though I don't always approve of the extent of the scripting and ad coverage. I'd far rather income was generated by subscriptions or donations for content rather than hoping fly-by users clicked on content, often by mistake!

PS. Coincidentally, Steve Gibson covered uBlock Origin on Security Now this week.

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