Wikipedia warns users about malware injecting ads into its pages

The normally ad-free site says some visitors have encountered a browser-based malware infection

Visitors to Wikipedia who see advertisements on the site have most likely fallen victim to a browser-based malware infection, Wikimedia Foundation, the organization operating the website, said on Monday.

"We never run ads on Wikipedia," said Philippe Beaudette, director of community advocacy for the Wikimedia Foundation, in a blog post. "If you're seeing advertisements for a for-profit industry ... or anything but our fundraiser, then your web browser has likely been infected with malware."

One example of such malware is a rogue Google Chrome extension called "I want this," Beaudette said. However, similar malicious add-ons might also exist for Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and other browsers, he said.

This type of malicious software is known as click fraud malware and can target multiple websites at once. In addition to injecting ads into Web pages, such rogue extensions are also known to hijack search queries in order to earn their creators affiliate revenue, said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, in a blog post Tuesday.

Spotting this type of rogue behavior on Wikipedia is easier than on other websites because the site doesn't run any commercial advertisements. "We're here to distribute the sum of human knowledge to everyone on the planet -- ad-free, forever," Beaudette said.

Wikipedia's operating costs are covered by donations. An online fundraiser is organized every year, and that's usually the only time a banner is displayed on the site's pages.

Users who are seeing commercial ads on Wikipedia should disable all their browser add-ons to determine if they are the source of the problem, Beaudette said.

Even if this makes the ads disappear, however, it is not necessarily a permanent solution and does not fix the underlying issue. The malware might have other components running on the system that could reinfect the browser.

"Run an up-to-date anti-virus to make sure that whatever might have introduced the unwanted ads isn't also up to other malicious behavior behind the scenes," Cluley wrote.

If disabling the browser add-ons and running an antivirus scan does not solve the issue, it's likely that the ads are automatically being injected into Web sessions at the network level. Some Internet cafés and free Wi-Fi providers are in the habit of doing this, Beaudette said.

Visiting the affected website over HTTPS (HTTP Secure) might sometimes remove the rogue ads, because HTTPS sessions are encrypted. There are browser extensions like the Electronic Frontier Foundation's HTTPS Everywhere that enable HTTPS by default on websites that support it.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucian Constantin

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?