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Adware: What Is It and How Can You Avoid It?


What is adware? If you’ve been getting incessant advertisements popping up on your computer screen no matter what websites you visit, or your usual web browser is acting suspicious some other way, then you might be infected with adware. It’s a form of malware that tries to get money by offering bogus scams that appear to come from legitimate products, but actually come from an infected software downloaded on your device.

It’s not just ads you have to worry about from this variety of threat. Adware can also track your IP address, search history and websites you visit; or install extensions, plugins, new homepages and apps you’ve never noticed before. Because adware infects whatever Internet browser you’re using, it can crash your websites over and over again.

Good vs Bad Adware

Not all adware is malicious, or even illegal. Plenty of software are only available in a free version because of ads. Those app games you play on your phone, the ones that play ads between rounds? They rely on pop ups for revenue. These types of software often offer a paid subscription if you want to get rid of the advertisements legitimately.

However, illegal adware is what you typically think of when you hear the term. It’s software that supports these frequent and irritating interruptions. It’s also known as “madware” when it’s on your mobile device, where it can be installed through browser vulnerabilities or apps that have malicious code injected. Since IoT devices are typically less well-guarded than your computer, this is one of the reasons that you should avoid connecting any Internet of Things devices to your company network.

Recognizing and Removing Adware

It can be difficult to recognize adware until it’s already on your machine. Some signs that you might have become victim to adware include:

  1. Browser or computer works very slowly

  2. New toolbars, extensions or homepages appear

  3. Browser or computer crashes frequently

  4. Random, relentless pop ups occur on every website, no matter which browser you use

  5. Random advertisements even when you’re not online

  6. Poor internet connection, while other devices work fine

It’s not always a mistake on your part that results in adware on your machine. Downloading new programs could lead to one with a hidden, embedded code that automatically launches adware on your computer as soon as the parent file is installed. Sharing software that allows you to download music or other media often contains adware within those “free” files.

A good rule of thumb: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Why Adware?

A sudden inundation of ads would be easily recognizable as a virus, don’t you think? So you may wonder where these cybercriminals are getting their money out of it. There are three main ways that they are collecting on adware:

  1. Pay-per-click: whenever you open an ad, either on purpose or by accident

  2. Pay-per-view: whenever you see an ad

  3. Pay-per-install: whenever the overall program is downloaded onto a new machine

Therefore you can see that this is a potentially lucrative cyberattack, regardless of if you fall for the ads and buy those products. Rather the goal is to secretly infect your machine – and tricking you into downloading infected files is much easier to do than hacking in and placing them there.

However, adware can also come from visiting unprotected websites. Regardless of what you click or download, unsecured sites could have been infected with code that seizes on browser vulnerabilities. Without clicking any bad links yourself, just by visiting, you could be allowing adware to automatically download onto your device.


Adware is annoying, hard to get rid of and difficult to spot until it’s already in your machine. Take precautions against risky behavior, like visiting unencrypted websites, to prevent something like this from happening in the first place.

Check URLs for HTTPS:// at the beginning, or a picture of a little lock beside it, to guarantee security as you’re browsing. Don’t click suspicious links and make sure the URL matches before you navigate to an unknown website. These behaviors reduce your risk of infecting your machine at all so you don’t have to deal with the consequences of a full-fledged cyberattack. When it comes to adware, education is the best prevention.


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