What is Adware And How do You Protect Your Devices From It

Laptop on a table with Alert icon on the screen and bunch of ads icons around

Adware is a type of malware that often displays intrusive pop-up ads and changes browser settings without the user’s permission. In some cases, adware is more of an annoyance than a serious threat. But in recent years there has been a rise in malicious adware. These newer forms of adware can spy on users, track their activities, or even install other kinds of malware. Here’s what you need to know about adware and how you can protect your devices from it.

What Is Adware?

Adware ComputerThe term adware is short for advertising-supported software and commonly refers to unwanted software that floods your computer or mobile device with pop-up ads. It is sometimes categorized as a potentially unwanted program or PUP for short. There are many different kinds of adware, and some types are more malicious than others. Adware may trigger pop-up ads or redirect your browser to different sites. Other types of adware may go undetected while they secretly track your online activities. They might record IP addresses, browser information, or your Google search queries. Adware can bundle with free software downloads or can pose as a legitimate software update.

Some adware warning signs include:

  • You get frequent pop-up advertisements
  • Your internet browser homepage changes without your permission
  • Your web browser slows mysteriously or crashes
  • Website links frequently redirect you
  • You find new toolbars, extensions, or plugins on your browser
  • Your computer or Mac begins installing software without your permission

How Frequently Do Adware Attacks Happen?

Adware is a common form of malware, and the rise of malicious adware is a particularly troubling trend. Research from G Data Software indicated that in 2014, adware made up over 31% of malware detected by antivirus software. Trojans accounted for the most prevalent form of malware, and adware was the second most common.

Adware is becoming more of a security risk, especially for major organizations. The most notable case to date was a massive adware campaign known as Fireball, which infected around 250 million computers worldwide. The adware was bundled with legitimate freeware on the internet. Fireball installed plug-ins that changed browser configurations and replaced the user’s home pages and search engines with fake ones. Fireball had many dangerous capabilities, such as spying on the user’s web traffic and the ability to install other malware.

What Are The Risks of Adware?

Some forms of adware don’t harm your computer, but other kinds are more sophisticated and malicious. While adware may display intrusive pop-ups, in other cases the user has no indication that anything is wrong with their device. This means the adware can spy on your online activities, access your personal information, or use up your data without your knowledge. Sometimes the adware is installed by a Trojan horse along with other kinds of malware, which can seriously impede your computer’s performance. Some adware even turns off your antivirus programs or prevents you from installing antivirus software. As adware becomes more complex, it is becoming capable of inflicting more harm on users.

How Can Adware Get On My Computer?

Adware most commonly gets on a user’s computer during a free software download or a visit to an infected website. The freeware usually appears to be a legitimate application. When users decide to install the program, they authorize the download. But when the software is installed, adware gets installed as well. In other cases, the adware installs itself automatically when the user visits an infected website. This type of adware is known as a Browser Hijacker, since the malware detects vulnerabilities in your browser and takes advantage of it.

It’s not just your computer that’s at risk anymore. Adware also infects mobile devices. If you feel your Android device was infected, check out our Android malware removal guide. In some cases, browser hijackers like Search Encrypt can also introduce adware in your computer.

What Do I Do If Adware Gets On My Computer?

Adware can be difficult to remove manually and often goes undetected by antivirus software. Since some forms of adware are legitimate, antivirus software often can’t determine whether the adware poses a threat or not. If your computer is infected by adware, your best option is to use an adware removal tool.

Before you begin, make sure to back up all your files using an external hard drive or a cloud storage service. Then you’ll need to download an adware removal tool and use it to run a scan on your computer. The tool will detect the adware so you can delete it from your computer.

When selecting an adware removal tool, make sure to choose one from a reputable antivirus company. Here are some of the best adware removal tools of 2018:

  • Zemana Anti-Malware: Zemana Anti-Malware is a cloud-based antivirus software that includes an adware removal tool. The tool is simple to use and is extremely effective at detecting adware that other antivirus software might miss. It is also effective against difficult to remove adware.
  • AdwCleaner: AdwCleaner is now part of Malwarebytes, and is a simple yet powerful adware removal tool. It quickly scans your computer or device for adware, PUPs, unwanted toolbars, and browser hijackers and removes them if detected.
  • Adware Removal Tool by TSA: The Adware Removal Tool by TSA is another cloud-based tool that is very effective against adware. It thoroughly scans your computer for adware and deletes it, and can also reset many internet browsers like Chrome and FireFox.

How Can You Prevent Adware?

Despite the prevalence of adware, there are steps you can take to prevent it from infecting your devices. Here are some of the most important ways you can protect your devices from adware:

Keep Your Software Updated

One of the most important steps you can take to defend yourself against adware and other malware is to keep your operating system and programs updated. This is because most operating systems and software have vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. As developers uncover these vulnerabilities, they release updates to fix them. In addition, update your antivirus and email software regularly, and install any updates from your internet service provider.

Pay Attention to What You’re Installing

Whenever you are about to download a program, stop for a moment and make sure you know exactly what you’re downloading. This is especially important for freeware, which often contains hidden adware. If you aren’t sure what a program is, do some online research to find out more about it. If any program seems suspect, avoid it.

Set up a Firewall

A firewall is a program that prevents unauthorized data from entering your operating system or browser. If you install a new program, the firewall will notify you and will ask your permission to activate it. This means that even if you accidentally installed adware, you will know about it and can then remove it from your computer.

Think Before Clicking

Many people don’t read pop-ups carefully and simply click “Yes” or “OK” just to get them off their screen. Unfortunately, adware developers are aware of this habit and often take advantage of it. Make sure that the program is legitimate before you click “OK”. In addition, never click links or download attachments in emails or messages unless you know exactly what they are, even if they are from someone you trust.

Final Thoughts

Adware is an extremely common form of malware and the amount of damage it can do varies greatly. It’s often introduced by browser hijackers. Some kinds of adware are just a nuisance, while others can damage your device, track your online activities, or even steal your identity.

In recent years there has been a rise in malicious adware such as Fireball. Due to this disturbing trend, it is increasingly important for you to take steps to protect your devices from adware.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.