The growing problem associated with adware and how to stay safe

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adware virus

Millions of computers all around the world are bombarded with advertisements every time users try to find something on the Internet. These devices become slower and sometimes freeze. If your computer shows such symptoms so, most likely, it is infected with adware.

What is adware?

Adware is a term that describes unwanted (and often harmful) software that displays ads on computers and mobile devices. Some experts call it – an adware virus or a potentially unwanted program (PUP). Such programs are usually installed without the user’s permission. Adware interferes with the user’s browsing experience and displays excessive amounts of pop-ups, banners, text link ads, and sometimes auto-plays video commercials. The goal of any adware is to generate income for its creator by displaying all those excessive ads.

Different types of adware

There are two main adware types. Classification is based on the penetration method:

  • Type 1 – adware penetrates the device together with freeware
  • Type 2 – adware penetrates the device via infected websites

Free programs that are massively available on the Internet are not completely free. They often come bundled with adware. To fund the development and distribution of free programs, their creators must monetize them by adding additional programs to the installation files. This type of adware is not really malicious, but it can be very annoying.

Adware is sometimes confused with spyware. The latter works, similarly, but it represents a separate program. Such malware also gets downloaded without user knowledge. Spyware tracks user’s browsing actions on the Internet to display targeted advertisements. This, of course, involves the collection of different (sometimes private) information about users.

The second type of adware is often associated with web browser hijacking. Infection happens when users visit an infected website that has malicious scripts resulting in unauthorized adware installation. Once infected users browse their favorite sites, they are actively shown ads. In this case, users think those advertisements come from the websites they are viewing at the moment, but actually ads are being shown as a result of the adware activity that was installed on the device.

Adware activities

People are so used to banners and various pop-ups when they browse certain sites that it is often hard for them to distinguish whether the device is infected with adware or not.

Below are several signs that indicate adware is installed:

  • Web browser’s home page has been changed without user’s permission
  • Advertisements appear where they ordinary should not be placed
  • Websites redirect visitors to unanticipated pages
  • The web page layout is displayed in a different way each time users visit the web page
  • The web browser is awfully slow and often malfunctions
  • Unwanted programs get installed automatically
  • New plugins, toolbars, or extensions appear without user consent
  • PC resource consumption (like CPU usage) is not steady and jumps all the time

How dangerous is adware?

Most adware pieces are more annoying than really dangerous. Annoying activities have mostly to do with a constant display of text ads, banners, and pop-ups that appear inside the browser window while users search for some information. Random pages or bookmarks may unexpectedly open. The computer begins to work slower, and more different malfunctions occur.

At the same time, there are some cases when adware collects the user’s data. In this scenario, the developer will try to sell the user’s ad profile that contains browsing history and includes IP address, performed searches, and visited websites.

How to prevent adware from infecting devices?

To stop adware from being installed, it is important to exercise caution when visiting web sites that look suspicious. Users should also be incredibly careful while downloading free software and download all programs only from trusted sources. While downloading freeware, the installation wizard may show small pre-checked checkboxes that indicate you agree to install additional “bundled” software. These pieces often represent the adware family.

When browsing the Internet, it is better not to click any ads, alerts, or notifications. For example, cyber crooks like to show alerts that say this PC is infected with serious viruses, and therefore an antivirus scan is strongly recommended. A lot of people fall victim to this cunning deception and unwittingly install adware.

In addition to the above tips, users should ensure that their operating system as well as all other software, are regularly updated. Non-updated software is vulnerable to many types of hacker attacks as malware may exploit their security holes.

Certain security settings that are available on Windows, Apple, and other devices can be enabled to protect users from downloading adware. One such precaution has to do with configuring the web browser to block all pop-ups. It is also particularly important to carefully check each file that gets download from the Internet, Online scanners like Virus Total may help here. The best antiviruses like AVG or Avast can also provide real-time web protection.

How to remove adware?

Those users that have adware installed on their devices, and they are tired of constantly closing pop-ups and tabs, especially on smartphones, where these things eat battery power, should take immediate action. It is recommended to use special antimalware solutions like Malwarebytes to get rid of adware.

About Author:
David Balaban is a computer security researcher with over 17 years of experience in malware analysis and antivirus software evaluation. David runs and projects that present expert opinions on contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, malware, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy, and white hat hacking. David has a strong malware troubleshooting background, with the recent focus on ransomware countermeasures.

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