What Is Adware and How to Prevent it

Adware is a software application that displays unsolicited advertisements while a program is running on a computer. The application typically comes implanted inside a free software supported by ads or as a fraudulent download. This article explains what adware is and how to remove it and prevent adware attacks in the future.

What Is Adware

Adware is defined as a software application that displays unsolicited advertisements while a program is running on a computer. It typically comes implanted inside a free software supported by ads or as a fraudulent download.

Pernicious Adware Attacking a System

Adware is any software program that displays adverts on a computer, whether harmful or not. It is most commonly referred to as malicious programs that show misleading adverts, blinking pop-up windows, giant digital billboards, and full-screen auto-play advertisements within an internet browser. The term is derived from a combination of the terms “advertising” and “software.”

Each time someone clicks on an advertisement displayed by adware, the developer earns money. Some varieties of adware might hinder your web browsing experience by referring you to harmful sites that contain malicious content. And then, some collect your surfing information without your knowledge and use it to give you adverts that are more tailored to your preferences and hence more inclined to be clicked on.

When adware first became popular in 1995, several industry professionals assumed all adware was spyware, which would be software that allows someone to acquire covert data from a computer without the person’s awareness. As adware’s credibility rose, it was relegated to the status of a “potentially undesirable application” or PUA. 

As a result, little was done to ensure its legality despite its high use. Adware manufacturers did not start monitoring and shutting off problematic behavior until the prime adware periods of 2005-2008.

Adware and unlawful use

Many people confuse adware with malware, which is harmful software designed to harm a computer or server. Viruses, spyware, worms, and some varieties of adware are examples of malware. Pop-up advertising, un-closable panels, and other forms of harmful adware can infect PCs. 

Once hazardous adware has infiltrated a computer, it may do a range of unpleasant functions, including tracking the user’s location, query history, and web browser viewing record – which the malware programmer can then monetize by selling to third parties. Adware can be detected, prevented, and removed using anti-adware software, which is frequently free or included with antivirus programs such as Avast, Kaspersky, AVG, and Bitdefender.

Although not all adware is harmful, you should use an antivirus program to safeguard your endpoint systems and yourself. Also, before clicking on a link or advert, be sure that it is legitimate.

Understanding how adware works

Adware enters your system in one of two methods: 

The first is when a user installs an application (typically freeware or commercial), and it silently introduces adware without your consent or knowledge. Since the program’s creator is registered with the adware provider, this is the case. The adverts will produce revenues, which means that the software can be given away for free (although even commercial software from an unreliable source can bring an adware payload). The adware then goes to work, and the consumer realizes there is a cost to “free” services.

The second strategy is equally deceptive. The user is browsing the internet, and it could be a reputable website or a dubious one. Adware, which exploits a flaw in the user’s browser to execute a drive-by installation, can corrupt it in either case. It infiltrates your computer and begins gathering data, redirecting you to fraudulent websites, and flooding your browser with advertising.

When businesses use adware to monetize products, the adware is integrated or packed into the product. This enables the automatic loading of ads. Other companies may purchase ad space to advertise to the program’s consumers. Companies can use ad sales to fund user and investment costs. Several companies intentionally install adware in their software products so that it will not run until the advertisements are seen. For example, end-users need to disable all adblockers to use the software. Adware often captures personal data and records the user’s browsing behavior, then markets it to third parties.

The dark side of adware

In terms of cybersecurity, adware is a phrase that refers to adware applications that have dangerous or irregular behavior. Adware is classified as spyware when it follows users’ activities without permission. Fraudsters leverage the power of flaws in ad networks’ validation process or flaws in a consumer’s browser. 

Whenever a user accesses an infiltrated site, harmful adware can spawn pop-ups, pop-unders, and persistent windows that enable drive-by installations. Visitors may be at risk of becoming infected if ad blockers are disabled. Specific adware applications have been found to prevent antivirus software from executing. Security software may be unable to recognize which adware applications are genuinely dangerous because some adware software is legal or does not have uninstallation processes.

Types of adware

Adware is most typically seen as obnoxious pop-up windows and ads, but it can also take various other forms. It is crucial to know the difference between innocuous and hazardous adware. Here are the key types of adware:

1. Legitimate adware

This type of adware enables you to subscribe to adverts and software promotions, allowing developers to distribute their programs for free by offsetting their expenses. To obtain a free item, users deliberately install this sort of adware. You may also opt to permit it to collect marketing data. All programmers, including respected ones, develop legitimate adware as giving clients a free product is a valid and fair method of garnering adoption. However, not all software downloads are mutually agreed upon by the distributor and user. The line between lawful and illegal blurs in this situation.

2. Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs)

Unwanted software packages called PUAs are included with legitimate complementary software applications. Potentially unwanted programs, or PUPs, are another term for them. Not all PUAs are malicious – however, some might display intrusive behaviors such as showing pop-up adverts or slowing down your device. It can slow down a computer’s functionality and possibly present security issues like spyware and other uninvited software.

PUAs are frequently embedded into open-source software and will install themselves while a valid free software package is installed. They are classified separately from malware since they arrive with the terms of use and privacy settings that regulate the associated program. Adware, browser toolbars, browser hijackers, etc., are examples of potentially unwelcome programs.

3. Legal abusive adware PUA

Legal and abusive PUAs are intended to inundate you with advertisements. One can find excessive advertisements in packaged software, internet browser toolbars, and other places. This is also lawful because there is no malware involved. For example, advertisements for fitness pills are common in adware like this.

4. Legal deceptive adware PUA

The adware that is legal but deceives the user somehow falls into this category. This type of PUA may make uninstalling secure third-party software difficult. This strategy is occasionally used by legal adware, and it is lawful if the developer did not put malware-infected advertising or software there on purpose. Unfortunately, particular adware may unintentionally infect devices with malware.

5. Illegal malicious adware PUA

This type refers to malicious adware that is illegal to use or distribute. The PUA makes money by distributing malicious programs such as spyware, viruses, and other malware to machines. The malware could be hidden within the adware, the internet sites it promotes, or other software applications. The authors and distributors are spreading this threat purposefully and may use aggressive tactics to do so.

See More: What Is a Security Vulnerability? Definition, Types, and Best Practices for Prevention

How To Remove Adware?

If you think adware has infected your Windows or Mac PC, there are several things you may do to get rid of it. To begin with, maintain regular backups of your documents. You can try to uninstall the adware using your operating system’s relevant program (for example, the add/remove option in the control panel of the Windows operating system). However, this requires that you know the name of the adware application and that the adware doesn’t include a “Resuscitator,” which are files that allow you to reinstall a program after it has been uninstalled.

How to Remove Adware

How to Remove Adware

If this is the case, install anti-adware software meant to find and remove adware, PUAs, and any other malware types that may lurk in your computer. If there are still bugs hidden in your computer, run a scan, and it will “bag, tag, and discard” them for you. It is also prudent to change your passwords after running an adware cleanse – not only for your computer but also for your email, social networking accounts, preferred shopping locations, and online invoicing centers.

If you suspect your computer is infected with adware, you may try uninstalling it in a few simple steps.

Step 1: Create a backup of the data

When you copy your essential system and personal information to a hard drive or external device, including a USB drive, it is known as a data backup. Backups are an integral part of computer maintenance because they protect your information in the case of a system malfunction or data corruption that leads to data loss

If no one backs up their files, everyone, including individuals and businesses, fears losing vital information forever. Make a copy of your files, and store it in a location separate from the primary device. When dealing with a suspected infection, this is always a recommended first step. Take advantage of an external drive or upload your most crucial data to the cloud.

Step 2. Download or update your security software

You will need to install or run upgrades to a scanner that focuses on eliminating adware and potentially unwanted programs to cleanse your device, like Adwcleaner, Malwarebytes, etc. When you do not have such tools and fear your computer has been infected, you may download them on a different machine and port the security software to yours through a hardware storage device.

Step 3. Uninstall programs that are not in use

Installed applications (that are not regularly used) waste valuable disk space and degrade performance, especially if they contain elements or processes that are scheduled to operate in the background. This can occur all of the time or start as soon as you turn on your laptop – like adware. 

Uninstalling apps you do not use or don’t require can free up disk space and other resources like processor power and storage. Check to verify if the adware package has an uninstaller before using a safety product to remove it. In the case of Windows PCs, users can open the Windows Control Panel and proceed to the add/remove applications list. Choose the remove tab if the undesired program is present. Even if you aren’t asked to do that after eradicating the adware, restart your pc

Step 4. Use an adware and PUAs cleanup application to run a scan

After the tool has searched for adware and discovered it, it will most likely be isolated so that the user can choose to examine it and decide on removal. It is advisable to completely erase, uninstall, or delete the PUA and not quarantine it or disable its functionalities. This will remove adware and any other leftover files that could reintroduce the adware.

See More: What Is Cyber Threat? Definition, Types, Hunting, Best Practices, and Examples

Adware Prevention Best Practices for 2022

Adware can slow down your device and make surfing a pain in the neck. However, it is crucial not to panic and proceed with adware removal, as explained in the previous section. You can also follow best practices to keep adware out of your systems altogether.

Adware Prevention Best Practices

Adware Prevention Best Practices

1. Be careful of your overall digital hygiene

It is more crucial to defend yourself from online risks in today’s constantly connected world, where programs are hosted on the internet and media is streamed. In the same way physical hygiene protects against bodily infection, proper digital hygiene can keep your data and endpoint systems safe from threats. 

Effective digital hygiene entails safeguarding your device from viruses and other unwanted software. Digital equipment also requires regular maintenance to function at its optimum. Regularly changing passwords, aggressively restricting one’s social and digital footprints, cleaning one’s inbox, obtaining software only from authorized sources, and storing backups are all recommended habits. Some advocate for using technologies such as two-factor authentication, access control lists, and firewalls.

2. Keep software and operating systems (OS) updated at all times

No software or OS is entirely immune to malware and malicious adware infections. That is why software suppliers release patches and upgrades regularly to address any security flaws that arise. Evaluate and apply all latest software updates as a standard practice. This includes:

  • Upgrading your OS, software solutions, browsers, and plug-ins on a regular 
  • Performing regular maintenance to verify that all software is up to date
  • Reviewing log reports for symptoms of adware

3. Adopt a zero-trust mindset when browsing the internet

According to a zero-trust perspective, one should treat anything unfamiliar or odd in the digital realm as a possible threat. Hackers use various methods to implant systems with adware and spyware, including USB charging points and mimicking social contacts. Users should always ask themselves, “What is the bad that may occur if this is malevolent?” and act cautiously.

Further, it is critical to be wary of any web pages that appear unreliable to avoid getting adware on a computer. When it comes to freeware and shareware, you should be cautious and only download these applications from trusted websites you know and trust. Users can read online reviews if they are unsure if a website is safe. Reviews are always available for everything from web applications to computer software – look for user comments and list the drawbacks.

See More: Top 11 Malware Scanners and Removers in 2021

4. Watch for the fine details

Always be aware of anything you view, downloading, or running on your system, whether a legal application download or an URL in an inbox. Fraudsters try to replicate trustworthy URLs, mailing addresses, and social networking identities. If you look closely at these, you will see strange elements that are fraud red flags.

This also means that you should thoroughly read software terms & conditions (T&C). Before hitting “next” during program installation, make sure you have read all of the terms and checked the agreements. Promoted third-party applications are typically opt-out in nature, which means you will want to uncheck a box to exclude any related PUA from being installed.

5. Steer away from the promise of freebies

Apart from the apparent dangers, downloading media and software files online may expose you to unscrupulous crooks who prey on customer desire for “free” items. Whether users realize it or not, such services may encourage the installation of adware or transport corrupted downloads. When surfing the web, installing PC software or mobile applications, only download programs from trusted, reputable sources.

You should aim to only install from companies whose names you are familiar with and from recognized and trusted sites. They have a good track record, such as official application stores like Google Play. These are not without the occasional harmful program, but they will take measures to keep users secure.

6. Be wary of media manipulation and bloated costs

To reap the benefits of unintentional clicks, some adverts use media manipulation. This refers to forged close buttons, strategically placed accept function keys, and unexpected pop-ups – all strategically placed to persuade users to engage on a malicious link. Avoid clicking on buttons that are too boldly designed or “in your face.” Also, keep an eye on bank statements, as mysterious subscription costs may indicate that you’ve been infected with mobile adware. 

See More: Top 10 Anti-Phishing Software in 2021

Takeaways 

Adware is extremely common, making it one of the most dangerous cyber threats users are likely to encounter. Several legitimate software applications run on an ad-based model to fund development – but this does not make them malicious adware that one must immediately remove.

However, the adware can also disrupt device usage and route traffic to malicious sites in order to orchestrate large-scale cyber attacks. Anti-adware, ad blockers, and anti-virus tools are your first line of defense. With time, users must gradually educate themselves on internet browsing best practices and distinguishing legitimate from fraudulent sites to stave off adware threats permanently. 

Did this article help you understand what adware is and how to remove and prevent adware? Tell us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you! 

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