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Adware Explained: What is Adware & How to Protect Yourself Against It

Most people have heard of viruses and malware, but what about Adware?

What is Adware?

Adware is a type of malicious software that displays advertising on your computer, usually in the form of pop-ups, banners, or even full-screen ads. 

Adwares can be annoying and intrusive, and in some cases, they are capable of tracking your online activity and causing your personal information (such as your IP address and browsing history) to be shared without your consent. 

While most adware is relatively harmless itself, the ads that pop up on your screen may redirect you to malicious websites and further infect your computer with other malware or viruses.

List of common adware
There are literally hundreds of known Adware to date – 180Solutions.SearchAssistant, Altnet, CoolWebSearch, Virtumundo, SkyMonk are some common ones that you may have heard of. The screenshot shows the list of 400 common adware programs curated by folks at WISC.edu (source: WISC).
Example of Adware
Example of Adware – SkyMonk the adware comes along with free PC utility software. Once installed, it will hijack your Internet browsers and display various advertisements (source: Kaspersky). 

How Does Adware Sneak Into Your Computers?

Adware programs are usually bundled with other programs – either a freeware or browser extension or software plugins. Other times, it can be installed without your knowledge through browser exploits or drive-by downloads.

Common Types of Adware

At its core, Adware works as a browser hijacker. Its sole purpose – to display ads – is achieved by modifying the users’ browser settings. Here are a few common methods of how Adware puts up unwanted ads on its victims.

  1. Search Redirects will take your search queries and redirect them to different, often unwanted, websites.
  2. Pop-ups and Pop-unders show adverts in new windows or tabs, often without you even clicking anything.
  3. In-text Ads are hyperlinked words or phrases in the text that, when clicked, will take you to an advert.
  4. Banner Ads are large, often intrusive, ads that appear at the top or bottom of web pages. Note that these adverts are not put up by the website owners – rather it’s added by the Adware after it hijacked your web browser.
  5. Background Ads are similar to banner ads, they appear in the background of web pages. 

How to Know if Your Devices are Infected by Adware?

Adware Examples
Ads, ads, ads, ads, ads everywhere when your computer is infected by Adware.

Below are a few typical signs that your devices are infected by adware. 

  • Popup ads show up as soon as you get online
  • Your web browser’s homepage has mysteriously changed
  • A new toolbar or plugin has been added to your web browser without your permission
  • Your web browser’s homepage mysteriously changed, or a new homepage tab has been added without your permission 
  • New programs are being installed on your computer without your permission
  • When browsing the Internet you get redirected to unknown sites unexpectedly 
  • Your web browser crashes or loads slowly
  • Your computer is running slower than usual.

If you see any of these signs, you may have adware on your computer. You can try to remove it yourself. For PC users, go to “Add or remove programs” system settings, find the adware, and click uninstall; for Mac users, locate the Adware in the Finder, drag the app to Trash, and empty trash. 

However, be aware that Adware can be difficult to remove and it may come back if you don't remove all of it. It's often best to use a specialized adware removal tool (more about this below). 

How to Protect Yourself From Adware?

Adware can be a nuisance, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from adware:

1. Keep your operating system and software up to date

Adware often takes advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated software.

2. Be extra careful when downloading / installing free software

Adware is often bundled with free programs. Read the terms and conditions before installing any software, and be sure to uncheck any boxes that allow the installation of adware.

3. Use an Anti-Malware Program

Anti-malware programs can detect and remove adware from your computer. Norton 360, Avast, and Malwarebytes are well-known antivirus tools that come with advanced adware detection and removal features.

Surfshark Antivirus
Surfshark Antivirus offers simple and effective security; the system auto-detects and removes malware (including Adware) in real-time > Visit Surfshark Antivirus online.
Avast Free Adware Scanner and Cleaner Tool
Avast One scans and removes adware currently on your device, and stops future adware, viruses, and other types of threats > Visit Avast Online.

Final Thought

If you think your computer may be infected with adware, it's important to run a malware scan as soon as possible. You can use free anti-malware software like Malwarebytes or Spybot Search & Destroy to remove adware from your system.

Once you've removed the adware, make sure to keep your computer protected by installing an antivirus program and using it regularly.

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Article by Jerry Low

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