What Is Adware

What Is Adware

We've all experienced it before ... pesky ads and incessant pop-ups. Maybe we're trying to watch a Docuseries on a not-so-legal website and every third click redirects us to a new page. Maybe we're on a mobile app littered with ads and we can't do anything without accidentally tapping on one. Maybe we're trying to read an article but the webpage is lined with ads top-to-bottom and it might seem better just to close the tab all together. Whatever the reason, many of us have encountered targeted and non-targeted ads before however, our initial response is typically to attribute the insistent advertisements to poor programming or greedy developers, rather than investigate the possibility that our machine has been infected with adware.


Adware is an intrusive malware which automatically displays or otherwise downloads unsolicited advertisements. Initially lumped within the larger category of spyware, adware was soon separated because of its ability to do much more than simply display targeted advertisements. Adware has the capacity to facilitate back-door attacks and/or social engineering attacks such as spear-phishing (which has the potential to be much more effective since the adware/actor knows what type of advertisements the target is likely to click). In addition to this, adware developers can sell your consumer and shopping trends to anyone willing to purchase.


Is Adware Legal?

Adware can fall into the colloquial "gray area" of ethical online behavior because at the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing wrong with advertisements. Legitimate adware is created by all types of developers, including reputable ones. However, not all application downloads are consensual - this is where legal boundaries become blurred. Most commonly, adware can enter your system through voluntary or involuntary download (otherwise known as a drive-by download). Adware can disguise itself as legitimate software and burrow its way into a device after the user mistakenly approves access. Alternatively, involuntary download happens when the user visits a malicious website which automatically approves access and installs the adware.


How Does Adware Generate Revenue?

Adware creators and distributing vendors make money from third parties via either:

  1. Pay-per-click (PPC) — they get paid each time you open an ad.
  2. Pay-per-view (PPV) — they get paid each time an ad is shown to you.
  3. Pay-per-install (PPI) — they get paid each time bundled software is installed on a device.

Adware can also track your search and browsing history to display ads that are more relevant to you. Once the developer has your location and browser history, they can make additional income by selling that information to third parties. (Source)

How to tell if you have an adware infection  

Signs that you may be infected with unwanted adware include:

Computer adware infection signs  

  • An unexpected change in your web browser home page
  • Web pages that you visit not displaying correctly
  • Being overwhelmed with pop-up ads — sometimes even if not browsing the internet
  • Slow device performance
  • Device crashing
  • Reduced internet speeds
  • Redirected internet searches
  • Random appearance of a new toolbar or browser add-on

Mobile adware infection signs  

On your phone, signs are similar:

  • Your phone is slow
  • Apps take longer to load
  • Your battery drains quickly
  • Your phone has apps you don’t remember downloading
  • There is unexplained data usage and higher than expected phone bills
  • There are numerous ad pop-ups (Source)


Use caution and practice safe computing. That means thinking twice before immediately downloading and installing any new software—especially freeware (free software). 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 open an app from an unknown source, even if it comes to you under the guise of a known email contact. (Source)

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.

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