If there's one thing that I can't stand, its popup ads. This hideous perversion of javascript for advertising purposes really makes my skin crawl.

Similarly I detest blinking flashing banner ads distracting me from the webpage I am trying to view. Especially that blasted "punch the monkey and win $20" one. You want to punch him - he's so annoying, yet the consequences of doing so lead to nothing but more advertising! But I digress.

Finally, driven to the brink of insanity by these flashing monstrosoties, I investigated several potential solutions. Obviously it would be simple to simply block requests to sites that present banner ads and popup windows. The problem is that one must sit down and create such a list.

This being the internet and not being the first person driven to dispair by the plethora of internet browser junk mail, many others have amassed such lists. There is a solution at hand!

Fear not, for the answer lies in the proxy server.

I chose to set up squid on one of my sparcstations. One of the neat features of the squid is the ability to pass all functions to a user-defined external program called "squid_redirect". This is where the solution fits. All queries are directed to a PERL script with a handy database of damn dirty advertisers.

Equipped with a handy list of advertisers' URLs my web browsing is now peaceful and ad-free. All banner ads are replaced with a user-defined gif image. I prefer the small yellow-on-black which says "This ad zapped.". It's oddly satisfying to see webpages populated with four or more of these as I surf.

Better still: all those nasty popup ads are replaced with a javascript window which once opened simply closes itself again. Bliss!

And the true state of ecstasy - once the proxy is configured in the internet options for Windoze, any and all software which embed advertising into their product (edonkey, imesh and friends) find themselves bereft of advertising.

I have truly found browsing nirvana!

See squid-cache.org for Squid, and http://sourceforge.net/projects/adzapper/ for the ad-zapping script.


Note: This writeup is now a little dated. Many web browsers now have a facility to block pop up ads, and software such as Norton and McAfee Internet Security allow windows users to configure settings as well.

The solution I describe here is very useful in a networked environment or in a home setting where you don't want to fork out for commercial software.

A new window opens. Small. About 250 pixels down, and 600 pixels across. My vision turns red, and I let loose a primal howl. Viciously, in an almost animalistic fury, I click the X in the upper right hand corner. I snarl at the offending website, damning them to an eternity in the fiery pits of Hell as I close the site and vow to never again allow their page to darken my monitor...

Popup ads are the bane of any websurfer. I don't understand how market research can conclude that they help sales, as a popup ad not only makes me not want to buy the product, it makes me want to go hunting for the entire sales team. Well, fear not, fair reader, for I have some suggestions.

First, start here: http://technoerotica.net/mylog/optouts.html
Let me explain. There are certain privacy policies that most advertising sites have. Some of them are due to legal reasons, and some are simple courtesies to the websurfers. Things like requesting that you email address be removed from mailing lists, that the address not be sent to other advertisers, and that your personal information not be spread all over the free world. Guess what? One of the policies that many advertising agencies have is the option to turn off those stupid popup ads! Most ads create a cookie on your computer. A lot of people hate them, saying they're a violation of privacy. However, those same cookies can be used to turn off the popup ads! Check out the website for how. This works for a majority of major sites that have popups - such as AltaVista, Yahoo, Amazon, etc. It won't, however, work for many porn banners or things advertised on most warez or porn sites. Read on.

The next step, if you are still being plagued by the stupid ads, is to get a popup killer. This is simply a piece of software that sits on your system and detects popups, then zaps them or prevents them from being opened. Check out:
http://www.panicware.com/product_dpps.html
http://www.meaya.com/

There are literally hundreds of others - try plugging the words "popup killer" into your favorite search engine.

The last resort is to disable JavaScript entirely. JavaScript is a scripting language used in webpages to create effects that are otherwise impossible to create in regular HTML. It also happens to be the way most webpages open new windows in your browser. This should only be used as a last resort, because you will miss out on many effects used in webpages, and may be unable to view certain pages at all. How to disable JavaScript is different for every browser, so your best bet is to look it up in the help menu.

There are many other ways to kill popup windows. Proxy servers, as well as various other types of server side filtering are very effective, but usually require more computer knowledge than the average Joe has.

Hope this helps!


Update: fondue gave me this useful tidbit. In Mozilla, you can set the browser to not allow popups. Try going to:
Edit/Preferences, click Advanced, then Scripts&Windows, and uncheck Allow scripts to: 'open by themselves'

Use Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox. That should prevent most ads from popping up, and you can easily block banner ads with it, too. If you're intent on using IE, though, read on.

To prevent this writeup from becoming obsolete over the years, here's a simple method of ad host blocking that you can employ on any Microsoft Windows, *N*X, *BSD or Mac OS X box.

On UNIX, all Linuxes, Mac OS X, and all BSDs (Windows is covered toward the end of this writeup), become root and open up the /etc/hosts file in your preferred text editor. (Note that the same file on a Mac OS X box is at /private/etc/hosts.) Below everything the file already contains (which shouldn't be much), enter a line like this to block a host from resolving during your net browsing activities:

127.0.0.1       ad.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1       adforce.imgis.com

This will force your box's DNS resolver to resolve (in this case) ad.doubleclick.net and adforce.imgis.com to the local loopback device, which means that it won't load any content from either of those servers, unless you've got those hostnames setup as webservers on your loopback device. (Which you won't.)

You can add any ad host you choose by entering another line like those above, only changing ad.doubleclick.net to whatever ad host you'd like to block is using.

On Microsoft Windows, all versions from Windows 2000 on (not sure about its predecessors), open up the file C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts in your preferred text editor (yes, the name of the file is hosts -- it has no file extension), and add the following to the bottom of the file:

127.0.0.1       ad.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1       adforce.imgis.com

Once again, you can add any ad host you choose by entering another line like those above, only changing ad.doubleclick.net to whatever ad host you'd like to block is using.

The wonders of the modern age have made the process of adblocking using hosts simple and automatic. If you're using Windows, go download Bluetack's Host Manager, and in under a minute you'll have all the baddies the net has to offer blocked.

Another method of escaping these pervasive and aggravating ads, alas only available to users of the Mac OS X operating system, is to use the beautiful browser OmniWeb, which includes two very useful features in the preferences:

  • To prevent popup ads: Under the JavaScript preferences pane, there is a "scripts are only allowed to open new windows:" item, with "always", "never", and (my choice), "only in response to a link being clicked". I have never encountered an unwanted popup ad while browsing with OmniWeb using this setting.
  • To prevent banner ads: The ever-useful Privacy preferences pane, which allows you (a) to not load anything from sites matching certain expressions (defaults include "/ads\..*\.net/", "/ads\..*\.com/", and "/.*\.doubleclick\.net/"), and (b) has options to not automatically load images "whose sizes match the standard sizes for ads", or "that aren't from the site which loads them".

I have been quite impressed by these features, and hope to see them showing up in open-source or other noncommercial web browsers across many different platforms. It only makes sense.

If you're not using OS X and don't have the hardware or the know-how to run a proxy server, you may want to try Opera. It allows you to either accept pop-up windows, reject them, or open them in the background. This option is easily accessible, so you can re-enable them when browsing one of the few sites that actually uses pop-ups for legitimate reasons.

On the downside, the free version of Opera has an ad banner built into the toolbar. There is a non-free version (currently costing US $39, or $20 for students) which does away with the banner ad.

I have used many different popup/banner blocking tools, but I did not like any of them. Except one. That program is Ad Muncher.

Ad Muncher will automatically block popups, it gives you many options to do it, including deciding when to prevent the popups (on site load, on site close, etc.). It also allows you to block those Messenger Service popups.

You can also completely remove banners with Ad Muncher. It comes with a huge server-supplied list with 1,648 strings found in advertisements to find them and remove them. It also lets you add your own strings to the list. Any text banners found will be removed and replace with Munched, and that can be changed. Image banners and other blocked images will be replaced with their alternate text. It can also remove music from the page.

Ad Muncher will also allow you to use proxies to IP Scramble your address. You give it a list of proxies and it will then use a random one each time you switch pages. It allows you to test a list of proxies to see if they're working in the program also.

The best feature about Ad Muncher is it works for almost all browsers! Without any configuration, it will work for Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firebird, Netscape Navigator and many others. It will also block banners and popups on KaZaA, ICQ, and others! You can other programs to the list if it's not already on there also.

Ad Muncher is distributed as shareware, and can be tested free for 30 days. While using the trial version, you cannot download updates for Ad Muncher. Registration costs $25 USD.

All this is in a 157kb installation file with no spyware. Amazing.

Ad Muncher website: http://www.admuncher.com

Sources:
My brain

Popups come from a number of different sources. One is websites that you visit.

Source Two is programs that you install on your computer. Some programs claim to do various useful things for you (and sometimes actually do them), but also secretly sends personal information to the creators and displays popups on your computer. This can be called: Trojan Horse, Adware, Spyware, or Malware.

The Third possibility is Windows IP Messenger Service. This was a "feature" included in Windows XP, 2000, NT and the misbegotten ME. It is actually a fairly useful network administration tool, except that some programmer at Microsoft set it to be on by default. Then some Spammers figured out how to abuse it by sending ads on an open network like those used by some Broadband ISPs.

Well! Enough theory for today! How to Fix:

These instructions assume that you are running some variety of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. If you are using some other OS then source 2 probably does not apply to you and source 3 certainly does not. Source 1 applies regardless of OS or browser. However, The given solutions only work for IE. If you have some other browser it will likely have some kind of built in pop-up protection. You could change to, say, Mozilla Firefox. However, if you are stuck with IE or just plain stubborn this may help. Unless you change OS's too, you will still need to stop type 2 and type 3.

To combat type one:

If you have Windows XP:
goto "http://windowsupdate.microsft.com" and make sure you have service pack 2
else/also:
goto "http://toolbar.google.com" and download the google toolbar.
I would recommend this in any case. the google toolbar has a lot of cool features

Both of these have popup blockers that will prevent type one popups.

To combat type 2:

goto "http://www.majorgeeks.com/download506.html" and download Lavasoft Ad-Aware.
run Lavasoft Ad-Aware once a month or whenever you have problems.

That should handle about 99% of your problems.
If you still have trouble, Try this::

goto "http://www.safer-networking.org/en/mirrors/index.html" and download "Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.3"
run Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.3 once a month or whenever you have problems.

That program is meant to handle more industrial strength spyware. Each of the two find some things that the other misses. Be sure to update the definition files before each use. It should be fairly obvious how to do so once you open the program.

To combat 3:
Turn off the Service.

Windows 2000
  1. Click Start-> Settings-> Control Panel-> Administrative Tools->Services
  2. Scroll down and highlight "Messenger"
  3. Right-click the highlighted line and choose Properties.
  4. Click the STOP button.
  5. Select Disable or Manual in the Startup Type scroll bar
  6. Click OK
Windows XP
  1. Click Start->Settings ->Control Panel
  2. Click Administrative Tools
  3. Click Services
  4. Double click Services Scroll
  5. down and highlight "Messenger"
  6. Right-click the highlighted line and choose Properties.
  7. Click the STOP button.
  8. Select Disable or Manual in the Startup Type scroll bar
  9. Click OK
Windows NT
  1. Click Start ->Control Panel
  2. Double Click Administrative Tools
  3. Select Services-> Double-click on Messenger
  4. In the Messenger Properties window, select Stop,
  5. Then choose Disable as the Startup Type
  6. Click OK
Windows ME Windows Messenger Service cannot be disabled

A couple of related issues:

You might also want to install some firewall software like ZoneAlarm. This will prevent most Spyware from communicating with homebase. It may also alert you to the presence of malware before you notice the effects. I'm not sure if it will stop the pop-ups though.

Viruses are really a completely different issue, but if you have been exposed to Malware, you may also have viruses. Never, Never, Never let your computer access any network of any sort without reliable Anti-virus Software. Personally, I like Norten Anti-Virus and detest McAfee Virus Scan but YMMV.

And that is Matthew Scouten's Advanced Anti-Popup Primer!

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