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What is Adware and How to Prevent It?

Ken Kizzee

troubleshooting an adware

Most people familiar with the internet know just how frustrating pop-up ads can be. Over the years, the people creating these pop-ups have figured out new and creative ways to ensure they continue showing up on your computer or mobile device. 

One way that they have done this is with adware, which is a type of malicious software program that continuously displays pop-up ads on your device. 

When they’re at their most irritating, dealing with these ads can feel like you’re playing a video game you’re destined to lose. 

Additionally, adware programs can be dangerous for your devices. This is because they often exploit weaknesses in your security system and create an opportunity for threatening malware to sneak in. 

Let’s take a look at what adware is, as well as what you can do to stop it and prevent it from coming back in the future.

What is Adware and What Does It Do?

Adware is a specific type of software that puts unwanted advertisements on your computer. This can be on either a computer or a mobile device like a cell phone or tablet. 

There are many freeware programs that contain some ads but are not malicious. These programs typically have the user consent to the advertisement before they download. 

When we talk about adware, we’re typically talking about programs that have malicious intent. These are often called PUPs, or Potentially Unwanted Programs.

Adware typically uses tactics that are deceptive or downright illegal to make money, gain access to secure information, and compromise your systems. These programs usually make their way onto your system when you download another free or unsecured software program. 

Many forms of adware will display pop-ups directly on your device. This can make your device run very slowly. They can also infect your web browser and use that to access your browsing history, searches, keystrokes, and other information.  

Most adware programs are designed specifically to make money and weren’t necessarily intended to put malware or spyware on your computer. In many cases, the advertiser will make money every time the ad is displayed to you, which is why these programs show you so many pop-ups at once. 

However, these programs are typically extremely vulnerable (in addition to being infuriating to deal with). This means that cybercriminals will often seek them out, because they are an easy way to spread computer viruses. These cybercriminals will often create their own adware programs specifically for the purpose of putting malware on as many computers as possible. 

Examples of Adware

Adware comes in many different forms, which is one of the reasons why many people don’t notice when it makes its way onto their computers. Here are some of the main types of adware to watch out for. 

Free versions of popular software programs

These are sometimes referred to as legitimate adware, because the user consents to the advertisements that come with the program. While these ads can be annoying, they are typically not malicious and do not affect the way your device works. However, these programs can sometimes have security holes that make it easier for cybercriminals to access your system. 

Deceptive adware 

Deceptive adware programs are actively misleading or confusing, essentially tricking the user into installing an adware program. When you go to download the program, the developer doesn’t indicate that there will be any ads, but then as soon as you install it, you’ll be continuously bombarded with pop-up ads. These programs may also force you to download a third-party adware program along with the program you originally intended to buy. 

This type of adware often makes its way onto your computer when you download new toolbars or “knockoff” versions of popular apps. Unfortunately, this type of adware is legal in some cases as long as the original creator does not include malware on purpose. 

Intentional malware disguised as adware. 

This type of adware is illegal, but that doesn’t stop hackers from developing it. These programs are usually meant to look like legitimate adware, but the developers are knowingly working with malicious third parties for their own financial gain. 

Symptoms of Adware

It’s important to be able to spot adware infections once they have made their way onto your device. Historically, adware has targeted all operating systems, including both PC and Mac. 

In recent years, hackers have been focused on developing mobile adware. They typically develop these apps for Android, because the Google Play store does not have as many restrictions on their apps. However, you may also see adware on iPhones occasionally. Adware is the most common form of mobile malware, and instances of Android malware rose 38 percent between 2019 and 2020.  

Understanding the symptoms of adware can help you catch it and remove it from your device more quickly. Some of the most common symptoms of adware include: 

  • More pop-up ads than normal. It’s normal to come across a few pop-up ads here and there while you’re surfing the web, but adware can launch an overwhelming number of pop-up ads. Adware can also result in pop-up ads even when you’re not online. 
  • Slow operating system. Adware can slow your device down dramatically and even cause apps to crash unexpectedly. 
  • Unreliable WiFi connection. In addition to slowing down your system in general, adware can also slow down your internet connection. This can make it particularly difficult to stream video programs or access other web pages with a large amount  of data.  
  • New browser homepage. If you have adware on your computer, you might notice that your homepage looks different. You might also notice new browser add-ons. Adware programs often do this to increase the volume of ads you’re seeing.
  • Device freezing or crashing. If you have a particularly aggressive form of malware on your computer, it may freeze or crash unexpectedly throughout the day.
  • Web page redirects. If you have adware on your device, the links that you click may take you to websites you weren’t expecting, or even result in strange error messages.  

How To Stop Adware

Once you’ve identified adware on your computer, it’s important to nip it in the bud as soon as possible to keep your systems safe. In order to remove adware, you’ll need to download a trustworthy internet security program that comes with an adware removal tool. You can use these programs to perform scans and identify all of the adware or malware on your device and remove it. 

Using a security program is usually the quickest way to remove adware, but in some cases you can also remove it manually. To do this, you’ll need to look at all the programs currently open on your computer. On a Mac, you can do this on the LaunchPad, and on a Windows, you can do this through the Windows Task Manager. 

Once you’ve identified the adware, you can remove it by dragging it to the trash and emptying the trash on a Mac, or uninstalling it through the Windows Control Panel on a Windows. You can also remove adware from Google Chrome by uninstalling suspicious extensions and then returning to default settings. 

How To Prevent Adware

For your company’s safety, it’s important to take active steps to prevent adware on your device. One of the best ways to do this is to download antivirus software with anti-adware features. 

Many antivirus programs are now available for mobile devices so you can protect your cell phone or tablet. Make sure you’re updating these programs frequently, as cybersecurity threats are constantly changing and you need the best possible protection available. 

Beyond using a trustworthy antivirus program, you should also be discerning about everything you interact with online. This means researching apps before you download them to ensure they are from a reputable developer. Many adware programs look similar to popular games or apps, but closer inspection proves that they aren’t legitimate.  

It’s also important to make sure you’re downloading programs from an official website or app store, and never pirate software programs. Be wary of free software programs, especially if they aren’t from a trusted company or developer. 

While you’re online, avoid clicking directly on advertisements, as sometimes these can lead to malware. 

Anytime you’re presented with an opportunity to sign terms and conditions, make sure that you are actually reading them. Most people skip past the terms and conditions when downloading an app, but this can help you catch adware before you download it. 

Adware: Final Thoughts

Adware can be annoying at its best and downright dangerous at its worst. While you can remove adware once it’s already made it onto your device, it’s best to take preventative measures to ensure this doesn’t happen. 

Downloading a trustworthy security program for you and your team can help keep your devices safe and save everyone a huge amount of frustration.