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Understanding adware

Understanding adware

Adware, also known as advertising-supported software, generates revenue for its developers by automatically displaying advertisements on your screen, typically within a web browser. While some adware is relatively harmless, others can serve as a gateway for malicious programs.


Adware definition and functionality

Adware is software that displays unwanted and often irritating pop-up advertisements on your computer or mobile device. It can enter your system in two main ways:

  • Bundled software: You might unknowingly install adware while downloading free computer programs or apps. These additional software packages contain adware, allowing app developers to generate revenue. 
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities: Adware can also find its way into your system through software or operating system vulnerabilities. Hackers take advantage of these weaknesses to insert malware, including adware, into your device.

Once installed, adware works by quietly running in the background, hoping that you will click on the advertisements it displays. The primary purpose of adware is to generate revenue for its creators and distributing vendors. They earn money through pay-per-click (PPC), pay-per-view (PPV), and pay-per-install (PPI) models. Additionally, adware can track your search and browsing history to display more relevant ads and even sell your information to third parties.

While some adware programs are merely a nuisance, others can pose a cybersecurity threat to your devices and personal information.

Read more: What is cybersecurity in healthcare? 


Types of adware

It's important to differentiate between harmless and harmful adware. Let's look at the different types of adware:


Legitimate adware

Legitimate adware is developed by reputable companies, allowing users to consent to advertisements and software promotions. Users willingly download this type of adware to access free products or services. Additionally, they may choose to allow the collection of marketing information. 

Potentially unwanted applications

Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs), also known as potentially unwanted programs, refer to programs that users may not have intentionally installed on their devices. The degree of harm or legality associated with PUA adware depends on the software's goals and those distributing it. 


Detecting adware infections

Detecting adware infections is necessary for protecting your devices and personal information. Here are some signs that you may have unwanted adware on your computer or mobile device:

  • Unexpected changes in your web browser's home page
  • Web pages not displaying correctly
  • Excessive pop-up ads, even when not browsing the internet
  • Slow device performance
  • Frequent device crashes
  • Reduced internet speeds
  • Redirected internet searches
  • Unexpected appearance of new toolbars or browser add-ons



Protecting yourself from adware

Preventing adware is the best way to avoid dealing with its consequences. Here are some proactive steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Keep software updated: Regularly update all the software on your devices, including apps, system drivers, and the operating system itself. These updates often contain security fixes that protect you from evolving threats.
  • Exercise caution: Treat anything unknown or unusual in the digital world as a potential risk. Hackers use various techniques to infect devices, ranging from USB charging stations to impersonating friends on social media. Always approach unfamiliar elements with caution and consider the worst-case scenario.
  • Pay attention to details: Whether it's a legitimate program installation or a link in an email, carefully examine what you're opening or accepting. Criminals often mimic trusted URLs, email addresses, and social media profiles to deceive users. Paying attention to odd details can help you spot potential scams.
  • Stay legal: Avoid pirating media and software, as it exposes you to seedy individuals who may take advantage of your desire for free content. These services often encourage adware installations or distribute infected downloads.

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide



What does adware do?

Adware (or advertising software) is the term used for various pop-up advertisements that show up on your computer or mobile device. Adware has the potential to become malicious and harm your device by slowing it down, hijacking your browser, and installing viruses and/or spyware.


How do I get rid of an adware virus?

Go to the add/remove programs list in the control panel. If the unwanted program is there, highlight it and select the remove button. After removing the adware, reboot the computer, even if you are not prompted to do so.

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