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Can companies control their affiliate-based adware?

Companies often advertise unintentionally with adware. In this SearchSecurity.com Q&A, Ed Skoudis explains some best practices that can keep a company's Internet-marketing strategy spyware-free.

Companies often advertise unintentionally with adware. How much control do they have over this? As a security professional, are there steps I can take to ensure my own company doesn't do this?
Ahhh, yes. Affiliate-based adware is quite a problem. Here's what happens. A trusted company with a good brand decides it wants to do some Internet-based advertising, so it diverts some money from its enormous TV and newspaper ad budget and uses it in the Internet realm. With little understanding of and experience with this type of promotion, the organization hires an Internet-based advertising company to get ads placed on various popular Web sites. This advertising company, in turn, uses other companies to push advertisements out. These companies then use other companies; they pay more individuals to create the ads, and so forth. Some of these lower-level folks might be very unscrupulous. They may put banner ads all over the place or even use spyware to inject advertisements, so they can inflate the numbers and make more money. These types of practices have embarrassed some big companies.

How much control do these companies have? Lately, many of them are being very careful in their ad contracts to make sure that their messages and brands aren't bruised by overzealous advertisers. As a security professional, it's wise to recommend that the organization's lawyers carefully review contracts with Internet-based advertising firms, making sure that the documents explicitly call out the advertising methods that will be used. The affiliate should be restricted from using spyware to display ads.

Also, you may want to encourage your company to use methods that you can control, including Google AdWords or similar services. AdWords allows advertisers to promote their wares when a product relates to a specific user's Google query. The briefly worded advertisements on Google's search pages can appear when certain ad-related search terms are typed – this is a highly targeted and useful form of advertising.

More information:

  • Learn how Zango had tried to erase its public image as a shameless adware pusher.
  • Visit our Spyware, adware and Trojans resource center.
  • This was last published in July 2007

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