What Is Adware?

So you’re browsing online, and suddenly every webpage starts redirecting you to random websites filled with intrusive ads. And even when you close the browser, pop-up ads keep appearing on your screen. There’s no need to panic just yet – you haven’t been hacked. You most likely have adware on your device. Learn what it is and how to avoid it in the future.

Adware is a type of malware designed to show the infected user as many ads as possible. Unlike other types of malware, its purpose is to make money for its creator, not to harm your device. However, it is annoying and might take up so much of your device’s resources that it becomes slow and barely usable.

Once you have adware on your device, it may show you tons of pop-up ads on your desktop or home screen, redirect you to ad-ridden websites, display banners on top of pages you’re visiting, etc. The more ads it manages to show you, the more revenue the creator will make. Some choose to make their adware less noticeable, but some opt to drown you in banners and pop-ups in the hopes that if they get enough users infected, this strategy will pay off.

How does adware end up on our devices

Adware most often comes together with another piece of software that you download and install yourself. It can be an app, browser plug-in, toolbar, free software, or a fake copy of a popular program. Adware is quietly installed together with it without asking for your permission.

Another way you can get adware is through unsafe Wi-Fi networks. It’s called typhoid adware – users don’t need to install anything; adware spreads from one device to another all by itself. It works like a man-in-the-middle attack. A hacker intercepts an unencrypted Wi-Fi connection and sends you ads while you browse online. It’s not really malware – there’s nothing installed on your device, so your antivirus software wouldn’t be able to pick it up.

Mind that adware is not the only way to bombard you with malicious ads. Malvertising is a similar cyberattack that targets multiple users through reputable websites. But instead of infecting people’s devices, cybercriminals target the ad spaces. They insert their code into online advertising networks, and users who click on genuine ads are redirected to malicious sites instead of intended webpages.

How to tell if you have adware on your device

  1. If you start seeing a lot more ads than usual, especially if they pop up on your screen when you’re not even online, it’s a dead giveaway that you have adware on your device.

  2. Your device becomes slow and starts crashing often. It’s a common symptom of all kinds of malware. If a particularly aggressive type of adware infects your phone or computer, its performance could go down.

  3. You notice changes in your browser. When you see a new homepage, toolbar, or a plug-in in your browser and don’t remember adding them, it’s a huge red flag. Other symptoms include random redirecting, pop-ups appearing even with your AdBlock enabled, and spikes in data usage by your browser app.

How to get rid of adware

You can try to delete the last software you remember installing before you noticed the abundance of ads. But keep in mind that even if you know exactly which app or plug-in caused the adware, deleting it may not remove adware from your device. In this case, you should get an antimalware tool, but do your research and find a reliable provider.

How to avoid adware in the future

Don’t download apps from third-party app stores. Only install apps from official app stores, and even then, you should always be careful. Google Play store has some security measures in place and removes malicious apps, but some are still available for download. So before you install anything, check the description, reviews, and developer. Cybercriminals often create fake versions of real apps to trick people into downloading them. They do this to steal credentials and credit card information or install malware on people’s devices – including adware.

Be especially careful on Windows computers. Windows is the most popular OS in the world. Therefore, cybercriminals spend a lot of their time creating new types of malware for it. Be cautious when installing free software or using toolbars and browser extensions – they often come together with unpleasant surprises. Avoiding malware is easier and cheaper than trying to remove it from your device later on.

Always be cautious online. If a webpage seems suspicious, don’t interact with anything, and leave immediately. Also, inspect any ad before clicking on it. Cybercriminals use all sorts of tactics to trick people into clicking on them. A good rule to follow: if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is.

Invest in antimalware software. Having a reliable antimalware running on your device could protect you from most adware. It will notify you if some software you’re installing is suspicious. Just don’t be tempted by free tools, and whatever you do, don’t try to download an illegal free copy of a popular antimalware. It most likely won’t work and might even infect your device with something much more malicious than adware.

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Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
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