Introduction to Adware
What is Adware?
Think of adware as a particularly unpleasant form of unwanted software. You probably ended up with adware on your machine when you were looking to download something else. In its most basic form, adware is typically a piece of softare that, when downloaded, forces your browser to open up pop-ups for ads you weren’t looking for or redirect your browser to pages overloaded with ads.
While typically not as destructive as spyware or a full-blown cyberattack, adware can be a major nuisance that slows your computer down. While each piece of software is different, many adware programs install cookies to track your location and track your browsing history to present ads based on the places you visit on the web. It can also be used to redirect you to pages that are filled with malicious ads or sites that host software that come preloaded with viruses. The end result is a horrible, and potentially dangerous user experience: your computer runs slower, and you’re subject to even more ads, pop-ups, and tracking cookies.
Unfortunately, programs like these are not new. Adware has been a staple of the internet since the 90’s, and has operated in a legal grey area ever since. Advertising is a legitimate profession, but the underhanded way in which adware companies operate leave doubt as to whether or not they should be allowed. Users often are tricked into downloading adware in the finest of print at the bottom of Terms of Service agreements, or are tracked and bombarded simply for visiting a website. Luckily, with a solid ad blocker it’s easy enough to avoid annoying adware, and keep your browser free of spammy pop-ups.
How do You Get Adware?
The most frequent way that people end up downloading adware is when they set out to download something else, and were offered a second piece of software during that process. In other words, no one sets out to download adware but they typically end up with it after trying to download software from what they believe to be reputable sources.
This happens because sometimes the creator of the program or “freeware” makes money from adware companies, rather than the person downloading it. That doesn’t mean you should never download free software, but if you do, make sure you pay close attention to the permissions you grant when you are installing. Often, the best freeware developers include a link on their site to an optional tip or donation. This allows them to continue to offer the software for free- without the adware! It’s a great idea to support freeware developers with a tip, so that they don’t have to resort to payment from often malicious adware firms.
Another way adware makes its way onto your computer is by sneaking into your downloads when you click on an ad, link, or attachment that initiates a download. Sometimes however, all it takes is a visit to a site to infect your browser with malware in what’s called a drive-by download. You can tell you’ve been affected by one of these if you are redirected to a site that looks suspect or malicious, and no matter how many times you keep trying to go back or to a new site, it persists in stealing your browser’s priority. Other drive-by downloads bombard you with pop-ups, new windows, or obstructive banner ads.
How do I know if My Computer is Infected?
The most common indicator of the presence of adware is when your browser’s homepage suddenly changes, or if every time you open up a new tab in your browser it includes ads for things in it. If you log on and aren’t greeted with your usual homepage or new tab, chances are good you’ve been infected with adware. The new homepage may look legitimate, but its links are often chock full of tracking code, and they might even be offers for downloads that install even more adware onto your computer.
Another strong indicator of adware is if your browser becomes sluggish or even unresponsive, regardless of your internet status. The memory it takes to load pop-ups, extra ads, and tracking code can bloat your browser to the point where it limps along at the speed it used to. You’ll also start seeing more ads on pages that didn’t used to have so many. Don’t assume it’s just that your favorite site has started advertising more- it could be adware! Don’t let it get to that point, make sure you take steps to keep your privacy safe and your browser speedy.
How do I Remove Adware?
If you’ve noticed your browser is slower than it used to be, that your homepage has changed, or that you’re being bombarded with advertisements on every page you visit, you might be affected by adware. One easy way to remove the least robust adware is simply to clear your browser’s cookies and browsing data. If that doesn’t do the trick, you should entrust the help of a respected malware removal software. Use its malware scanning feature to scan your computer to see if you are in fact affected by adware, and remove it accordingly.
If in doubt about the legitimacy of a malware removal software, a simple Google search to obtain reviews, testimonials, and customer experiences can clear up any doubt. Never download anything without researching it first! That’s a good rule for anything on the internet, but lots of malware developers play on people’s fear of malware to scare them into downloading even more malware. It’s possible to prevent adware before it escalates into anything more than simply a nuisance, however, so protect yourself before it becomes an issue.
How to Prevent Adware
The best way to prevent adware is super simple: pay very close attention to what you are downloading and from where. When possible, go directly to the site of the company responsible for creating it instead of downloading from third-party “download” sites. You should also get into the habit of reading the terms of service before you agree to install anything. Look for simple clues like lots of misspelled words or inconsistencies in the language. Reputable software providers are typically very good at ensuring their software terms of service are clear and free of errors.
Using an ad blocker is another tool you can utilze to help identify if you’ve been infected with adware. Since ad blockers will block the vast majority of ads, including pop-ups and most form of tracking, if you have an ad blocker installed and you notice that you are seeing the same ad over and over again, it’s probably a sign that you’ve inadvertantly installed some adware. So while using an ad blocker will not prevent you from getting adware on your machine, it will definitely help reduce the likelihood of getting infected, and can also be used as a diagnostic tool to identify if you’ve downloaded something problematic.
The best protection of all is to just pay very close attention to what you are downloading and from where. Good online security is not hard: if you pay close attention to the websites you are visiting, and what you are downloading, you can make informed decisions about where you download things from. If you are on an adult site or a torrent-downloading website, you are much more likely to be exposed to shady tactics, so behave accordingly and be careful about what you download. Finally, ad blockers also can’t keep you safe from adware lodged in freeware, so always read Terms of Service agreements carefully, and opt out of anything extra before installing.