Adware is a form of malware that bombards users with unwanted advertisements. These intrusive ads can disrupt your browsing experience, slow down your devices, and even expose you to further malware infections. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about adware, including what it is, how it works, how to tell if your devices are infected, and most importantly – how to get rid of it for good.
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What is Adware?
Adware is a type of malware that displays intrusive ads on your devices. Its sole purpose is to make money for cybercriminals by bombarding you with pop-up, pop-under, notification, and other disruptive ads.
Unlike viruses or worms that damage your devices, adware is not inherently malicious. However, it can still degrade your browsing experience, slow down your devices, and spy on your online activities.
Some of the most common problems caused by adware include:
- Popup ads that appear randomly while browsing the web
- Ads and sponsored links injected into web pages you visit
- Browser homepage and search engine changes without permission
- Slow web browsing and device performance
- Strange toolbars and addons installed without consent
- Increased data usage and bandwidth congestion
- Tracking of browsing habits and online activity
In many cases, adware infections are bundled with free software downloads such as media players, download managers, and file sharing programs. The adware code is hidden in the installation wizard of these “free” programs.
This allows the adware to be installed on your devices without your knowledge or consent. The developers earn affiliate commissions when the adware generates clicks and traffic.
What Does Adware Do?
The main function of adware programs is to display advertisements. To achieve this, adware may carry out some of these actions on infected devices:
1. Insert Ads on Webpages
Adware programs monitor your web browsing activity to insert ads on pages you visit. The ads may appear as popups/pop-unders, banners, or text links blended into the content.
This allows the adware operators to earn money every time you inadvertently click on one of the ads.
2. Open Redirect Pages
In addition to inserting ads on websites, adware can redirect your browser to spam sites filled with ads.
These redirects often happen when you mistype an address or click a broken link. You may suddenly find yourself on an ad-filled page with a vague URL.
3. Alter Browser Settings
Adware frequently changes browser settings on infected devices to display more ads. Changes may include:
- Replacing your homepage and new tab page with ad-filled sites
- Altering the default search engine to ad-supported services
- Inserting unwanted bookmarks and browser extensions
4. Create Popup/Pop-under Ads
One of the most annoying adware behaviors is triggering popup and pop-under ads. These ads appear in new browser windows over or under your active window.
Popups bombard you with ads when browsing sites or opening new tabs. Pop-unders silently load ads in the background.
5. Insert Ad Banners
Some adware variants insert banner ads into applications and software. For example, you may suddenly see banner ads in your image viewer, media player or games.
6. Display In-App Ads
Mobile adware mainly focuses on in-app advertisements. The ads may appear randomly during gameplay, while browsing social media apps, or when opening your camera.
Ads during phone calls and fake warning messages are also common.
7. Collect User Data
In worst cases, adware may spy on your browsing habits and online activities. It gathers personal data such as search queries, visited websites, clicks etc. without consent.
This allows advertisers to serve targeted, interest-based ads. But more importantly, it poses a massive privacy risk.
How Does Adware Spread?
Adware utilizes a variety of techniques to covertly infect systems and proliferate:
One of the most common infection vectors is bundling adware with otherwise legitimate software installers. Often buried in End User License Agreements (EULAs), users unwittingly install adware programs alongside freeware or shareware. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks and download portals bundle adware installers to monetize “free” content.
Adware leverages security flaws in browsers, plugins, and operating systems to silently infect systems when visiting compromised websites. This “drive-by download” approach allows adware to bypass system defenses.
Social Engineering Schemes
Adware vendors trick users into installing their software using deceptive offers such as fake antivirus scanners, free screen savers, video codecs, or phony browser updates. Links to such scam offers propagate rapidly on social networks.
Online ads themselves have become a distribution channel for adware. Malicious ads redirect to sites hosting exploit kits or initiate unwanted software downloads. Even legitimate ad networks risk inadvertently spreading adware through unvetted clients.
By utilizing these propagation techniques, adware quickly reaches a wide audience. Without intervention, adware will continue to escalate across consumer and enterprise systems.
How to Tell if Your Devices are Infected
Adware infection signs can vary based on where the infection occurs. Here are some telltale signs of an adware attack on different devices:
Signs of Adware Infection on Windows PCs:
- Frequent pop-up ads, coupons, notifications and banners while browsing
- Website interfaces crowded with extraneous ads and links
- Browser homepage/search settings modified without you doing it
- Sudden spike in browser extensions, toolbars and addons
- New, unknown processes and services running in Task Manager
- Unusual programs with generic names (AdService, ValueApps, SupportTools) added to system startup
- Sluggish browsing and PC performance
- High resource usage even when PC is idle
Signs of Adware on Android Devices:
- Popup ads that keep appearing out of nowhere
- Apps launching with a video advertisement before loading
- Frequent redirects to random websites while browsing
- Strange notification ads for apps and services you don’t use
- Apps freezing and stuttering while ad banners load
- Mysterious installed apps with nondescriptive icons and names
- Blank advertisements appearing in app menus and options
Signs of Adware on Mac Computers:
- Safari and Chrome flooded with popups, redirects, fake warnings, and flash player installation prompts
- Advertisements on webpage videos, images and games
- Default browser homepage replaced with ad-filled sites
- Browser extensions like “Macintosh Cleanup” or “Snapshots” installed without permission
- Fake antivirus alerts
- Slowdowns and lags while browsing and using apps
If you observe any of the above, it’s wise to thoroughly scan your device to check for and remove any adware infections.
How to Remove Adware
Please perform all the steps in the correct order. If you have any questions or doubts at any point, stop and ask for our assistance.
With these steps, you should be able to purge those pesky adware infections from your Android device. Be vigilant about downloading apps only from trusted sources like Google Play Store in the future.
Frequently Asked Adware Removal Questions
Adware can be tricky to remove fully. Here I answer some of the most common questions about properly cleansing adware from infected devices:
What’s the best way to check if my device has adware?
Look for symptoms like constant pop ups, unwanted browser changes, sluggish performance, and unknown programs installing themselves. Scan with AdwCleaner and Malwarebytes to confirm.
Where does adware hide itself on computers?
Adware inserts itself into browsers as extensions, changes registry settings, creates hidden startup scripts, and disguises as legit programs in Program Files. It burrows deeply.
Should I be concerned about adware tracking my online activity?
Yes, adware commonly monitors browsing to serve targeted ads. Worse varieties steal personal data like passwords and credit cards entered online while infected.
Why is adware so difficult to fully remove?
Adware embeds itself into multiple system areas like the registry and browsers. Simply deleting obvious programs is often not enough. You need to purge all associated files.
Is completely reinstalling my OS the only way to remove severe adware?
In extreme cases a total reinstall may be needed, but this is rare. Methodical scans with AdwCleaner and antivirus suites can remove even severe adware without wiping devices.
How can I avoid adware infecting my computer again after cleaning it?
Stick to official download sites, avoid bundled freeware offers, inspect installers closely, use an ad blocker, don’t click sketchy links, keep software updated, and run periodic Malwarebytes scans.
Are Macs immune to sneaky adware infections?
No, Mac adware is quite prevalent. Stick to the Mac App Store for software, monitor Safari extensions routinely, avoid questionable downloads, and use MalwareBytes for Mac scanning regularly.
What’s the most effective way to remove adware from Android?
A factory reset clears adware that hid in system files. Reinstall from Google Play instead of unknown sources. Vet apps closely and revoke unnecessary permissions from suspicious ones.
Let me know if you have any other questions about kicking pesky adware to the curb!
The Bottom Line
Adware can sneak into devices, hijack browsers, slow down systems, and violate privacy. The good news is infections can be terminated by using the right anti-malware tools. Free apps like Malwarebytes, AdwCleaner and antivirus software can rapidly detect and destroy adware on Windows, Mac and Android.
Beyond scanning and cleaning up infections, users should exercise caution when downloading free programs, especially cracked software or pornographic content, common sources of adware. Be vigilant of browser redirects, avoid clicking sketchy pop-up ads, and properly vet apps before installing. Practicing safe browsing and boosting security can help prevent future adware problems.
With the right knowledge and tools, it is possible to remove pesky adware and enjoy an uninterrupted, private browsing experience once again.