The Superfish scandal discovered to affect purchasers of new Lenovo laptops last year showed that ad injection software poses considerable risks to users. Ad injection software risk cannot be easily managed. Even brand new laptops can come installed with software designed to deliver ads to users.  Unfortunately, programs such as Superfish can also be used by hackers to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks.

Hackers can potentially exploit security vulnerabilities in ad injection software. In the case of Superfish, the software was pre-installed on Lenovo laptops. In order to serve ads, the software used a self-signed root certificate that generated certificates for secure HTTPS connections. The software substituted existing HTTPS certificates with its own in order to serve ads to users while they browsed the Internet. Unfortunately, if the password for ad injection software is discovered, as was the case with Superfish, HTTPS connections would no longer be secure. Hackers would be able to eavesdrop and steal user data.

Man-in-the-middle (MiTM) techniques are increasing being used to serve adverts while users browse the Internet, but the ad injection software risk of hackers taking advantage is considerable. The software is capable of network layer manipulation, injection by proxy, and can alter DNS settings. These techniques are used to serve adverts, but this is outside the control of the browser and the user.  Since these programs can be manipulated and exploited by hackers they also pose a considerable security risk, and one that the user is unable to easily address.

Microsoft takes action to reduce ad injection software risk

The ad injection software risk is considerable, so much so that Microsoft is taking action to tackle the problem. By doing this, Microsoft will hand back choice to the user. The company has updated its criteria for determining what software qualifies as Adware, and has recently announced it will be taking action to reduce risk to users and prevent unwanted behavior by Adware.

Rather than the manufacturer of the equipment or developer of the Adware program dictating the browsing experience for users, Microsoft will be handing back control to the user. Microsoft’s policies now demand that “programs that create advertisements in browsers must only use the browsers’ supported extensibility model for installation, execution, disabling, and removal.”

Not only will Superfish-style programs be banned by Microsoft, by March 31, 2016 any programs that are detected will be detected and removed.