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Malware

What is adware and how does it work?

We all know when something is wrong with our computers. It could be that more ads than usual are popping up or maybe you’ve got a few new additions to your toolbar that you don’t remember installing.

You know it’s not quite right but you don’t think it’s a virus.

Or is it?

Well, if the symptoms are any of the above, it’s very likely that your device has been infected with adware.

The good news is that the programme won’t turn your computer, laptop or tablet into a useless brick. It’s also highly unlikely that it’ll be a doorway for a hacker to steal all your information – however that doesn’t mean that you should ignore it as it can be harmful in a couple of different ways. Let’s take a look at what adware is, how it works and how to get rid of it if you come across it.

What is adware?

Adware is short for advertising-supported software. While some platforms may use a form of adware as advertising revenue to fund their free services, the term is usually talked about because of its malicious uses.

Adware is a type of malicious software (malware) that allows developers to send ads to users in an intrusive way. Some versions, commonly referred to as spyware, also have the ability to track a user’s browsing history and keystrokes without their knowledge – and you definitely don’t want that!

Adware usually affects your device in certain ways:

  • A high number of pop-up advertisements that reappear after being closed whether you’re on the internet or not. This is particularly common on apps on your phone, so if an app seems to have an ad every couple of seconds, you should probably uninstall it.
  • Issues with internet browsing speed or not being able to get to certain pages altogether.
  • Installation of unknown plugins, files or toolbars.
  • Your homepage (for example Google.com) changing without your input to something you haven’t seen before.

Adware is annoying, but it can also seriously slow down your device and fill it with unwanted and potentially harmful software, as well as stealing your personal details. Something that seems harmless may well end up causing all kinds of problems for you.

In general, you should get rid of adware as soon as you spot it, but more on that in a bit!

How adware works

There are two ways that users come across adware: downloading it by mistake or picking it up from a malicious website.

Unlike other forms of malware, adware is commonly downloaded by the user with another programme. In fact, many people download it without even realising because they didn’t read the terms and conditions – so they tick a box and end up with the software they wanted and a new programme they have no interest in that’ll spam them with ads.

Free software delivered through peer-to-peer file sharing platforms can have adware attached to it, which is then installed and burrows itself in the device along with the legitimate programme. Similarly, some developers have been known to include adware in their open source projects as a way to fund it without realising how damaging it can be to users.

On the other hand, some sites force you to download the adware once you enter the website or click on a page. These download in the background and are incredibly difficult to detect unless antivirus or adware blocker tools are running.

Adware will start immediately tracking your web activity after it’s installed and begin showing advertisements – often in the form of lots of pop-ups. It may also interfere with your internet browsing experience as soon as it’s installed.

How to avoid and get rid of adware

You should always be careful about what you click or download on the internet, and that’s no different when it comes to staying clear of adware. Its creators prey on users who are easily fooled by advertisements saying they’ve won a free prize or asking them to download a new programme.

Remember: be particularly careful when you’re downloading or installing free software.

Also make sure that you only ever download software from trusted companies and developers, especially when it comes to anything free. Avoid entering websites with spelling errors in their domain name or using those that don’t have ‘https:’ in the URL – otherwise known as the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. This ‘https:’ means that the site is secure – or safe for you to use.

Above all else, ensure that you’re using a security suite which includes the latest tools available, like antivirus, to protect you from the latest threats and that your firewalls are on and running. These two solutions alone can prevent many adware attacks from successfully infecting your computer.

Don’t forget to change your passwords after you remove the adware file to prevent cybercriminals from potentially accessing your accounts.

Are you doing everything you can to protect your computers from adware? Take a free trial of Norton’s premium security suite to help to protect up to 10 of your devices.

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