Here’s how it happens. You go online with your nice, well-behaved browser, only to see it fly into a virtual tantrum, as an onslaught of advertisements either pops up, slides in from the side, or otherwise inserts itself to interrupt and even redirect your intended activity. And no matter how much you click to close those windows, they keep buzzing you like flies at a picnic.
That bothersome phenomenon results from adware, short for advertising supported software. And just as your picnic food attracts the pests that come after it, money—or the revenue generated by unbidden ads—is what draws adware to your PC or mobile device. Below, we offer a short primer on adware, what it is, how you get it, what it tries to do to you, how to deal with it, and what to do in the future to avoid this irritant.
What is adware?
Adware is unwanted software designed to throw advertisements up on your screen, most often within a web browser. Some security professionals view it as the forerunner of the modern-day PUP (potentially unwanted program). Typically, it uses an underhanded method to either disguise itself as legitimate, or piggyback on another program to trick you into installing it on your PC, tablet, or mobile device.
“Adware is unwanted software designed to throw advertisements up on your screen.”
Adware generates revenue for its developer by automatically displaying online advertisements in the user interface of the software or on a screen that pops up in the user’s face during the installation process. And that’s when you start seeing dubious miracle weight loss programs, offers for get-rich-quick secrets, and bogus virus warnings that invite your click. Also, you might experience new tabs opening, a change in your home page, findings from a search engine you never heard of, or even a redirect to a NSFW website.
Mind you, it does happen that legitimate software applications do use online advertising, with ads that are typically bundled within the program and that display in ways the program developer specified. Adware is an altogether different kettle of rotten fish. You might download it without understanding its intent. Or it might land on your PC by means of legitimate software within which it’s secretly buried. Whatever the path, it all boils down to some program on your computer showing you advertisements that do not come from the websites you are visiting.
Once adware hijacks your device, it might carry out all sorts of unwanted tasks. The software’s functions may be designed to analyze the location and which Internet sites you visit, and then present advertising pertinent to the types of goods or services featured there. While adware is more of a pesky nuisance than a harmful malware threat to your cybersecurity, if the adware authors sell your browsing behavior and information to third parties, they can even use it to target you with more advertisements customized to your viewing habits. And it doesn’t matter whether you are using Chrome, Firefox, or other browsers: It affects all of them.
Here are a few typical telltale signs that you have adware on your system:
- Advertisements appear in places they shouldn’t be.
- Your web browser’s homepage has mysteriously changed without your permission.
- Web pages that you typically visit are not displaying properly.
- Website links redirect to sites different from what you expected.
- Your web browser slows to a crawl.
- New toolbars, extensions, or plugins suddenly populate your browser.
- Your Mac starts automatically installing unwanted software applications.
- Your browser crashes.
How do I protect myself from adware?
Use caution and practice safe computing. That means thinking twice before immediately downloading and installing any new software—especially freeware. Read the terms and conditions like a lawyer before agreeing to them, and quit out of the download process if anything smells like a permission to load adware. Avoid torrent sites, illegal downloads, and never ever open an app from an unknown source, even if it comes to you under the guise of a known email contact.
Finally, even before all the above precautions, download a reputable cybersecurity program for your PC or mobile phone. Perform scans frequently, and keep your updates, well, up to date. Of course, we recommend any of our Malwarebytes family of anti-malware products as a prudent measure: Malwarebytes for Windows, Malwarebytes for Mac, Malwarebytes for Android, Malwarebytes for Chromebook, and Malwarebytes for iOS. By arming yourself with knowledge, and protecting yourself with a robust cybersecurity program, you can take the steps necessary for an adware-free life online.
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