Groups: US Ad firm used by ISPs spies on users

A new report says a targeted ad vendor used by some ISPs hijacks browsers and eavesdrops on users

A targeted advertising vendor being used by several US broadband providers hijacks browsers, spies on users and employs man-in-the-middle attacks, according to a report released Wednesday by two advocacy groups.

NebuAd, a behavioral advertising vendor being used by Charter Communications, WideOpenWest and other Internet service providers, uses also packet forgery, modifies the content of TCP/IP packets and loads subscribers' computers with unwanted cookies, according to the report, released by Public Knowledge and Free Press, two Washington, DC, groups focused on digital rights.

"NebuAd exploits several forms of 'attack' on users' and applications' security," wrote report author Robert Topolski, chief technology consultant for the two groups. "These practices -- committed upon users with the paid-for cooperation of ISPs -- violate several fundamental expectations of Internet privacy, security and standards-based interoperability."

NebuAd violates Internet Engineering Task Force standards that "created today's Internet where the network operators transmit packets between end users without inspecting or interfering with them," Topolski added.

Representatives of Charter Communications and NebuAd didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the Topolski report. Charter, in late May, issued a statement saying it was working with concerned lawmakers to address concerns about the targeted ad service.

"Charter takes the responsibility of protecting its customers' information seriously," the company said in a May statement. "We look forward to maintaining an open communication with policymakers to alleviate any concerns."

Charter Communications, a cable television and Internet provider based in St. Louis, announced in May that it was planning to use NebuAd to roll out a targeted ad program that would track users' Web activity in order to deliver "relevant" ads. That announcement by Charter, the fourth largest cable operator in the US, sparked calls for an investigation by several privacy and consumer groups.

Two members of the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, Representatives Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, wrote to Charter in mid-May, asking the company to delay rollout of the plan until they could have a discussion about the proposal.

Any collection of cable subscribers' personal data without their consent "raises substantial questions" about whether it is legal under the Communications Act, the two congressmen wrote.

Topolski, in his report, says he tested a connection on WideOpenWest in late May and early June. NebuAd's service injected new script into his browser session, preloaded identifying cookies on his machine, and monitored his browsing, he wrote.

Topolski compared NebuAd's methods to browser hijacking, cross-site scripting and other forms of computer attacks. NebuAd is engaged in "eavesdropping on the content of Web messages as they were being sent and received," he wrote.

"This report shows that NebuAd's Internet wiretapping is highly questionable," Marvin Ammori, Free Press general counsel, said in a statement. "Phone and cable companies should press pause on NebuAd and any similar venture until consumers and members of Congress can address the serious concerns raised by this report."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?