Adware can be perfectly safe for users and a valid business practice for software developers. However, some adware is highly manipulative and creates an open door for malicious programs. To avoid viruses, spyware, and other threats, you’ll have to know which types of adware are bad and how to keep it off your devices.
In this article, we’ll cover how malicious adware can impact the security of your computer.
As we dive in, we’ll cover some common questions you might have:
Let’s begin by going over the definition of adware.
Adware is also known as advertisement-supported software. Creators of adware include advertisements or help distribute other software to earn money.
In many cases, ads may be within the software itself. Alternatively, the adware may encourage you to install additional software provided by third-party sponsors.
Adware programs exist across all computers and mobile devices. Most of these are perfectly safe and legitimate, but some might have dark motives that you are unaware of.
You might opt to download adware if you want:
Adware creators and distributing vendors make money from third-parties via either:
The sponsoring third-parties benefit from adware by:
Together, this is what makes adware profitable and beneficial for you and all people involved.
By definition, adware is not inherently malicious. However, the intentions of the paying advertiser, a secondary paying distributor, or the creator may be less safe. Plus, it can be a gateway for malicious acts, like malware infection or spying on your digital habits.
Adware can sometimes be incorrectly labeled as malware or spyware. Cybersecurity companies don't label all adware as a threat because some are perfectly safe and reputable.
However, some adware does pose a risk that can introduce a threat to your devices. When you’re discussing adware, you might wonder “what is the difference between malware and adware,” or “what is adware and spyware?”
Malware is malicious software designed to disrupt, corrupt, or steal information from computer devices. This includes threats like viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other malicious code.
Spyware is a type of malware that acts as a window to monitor your device without your permission.
Adware is not in itself malware, however, it may be equally unwanted in some cases. It can sometimes assist in the delivery of malware, which may often include spyware. Adware can just as easily be harmless and respectful, whereas others might be invasive and irritating.
To further define ad-supported software, we must separate harmless and harmful adware.
Legitimate adware allows you to consent to ads and software promos, offsetting costs to offer their software for free. You and others willingly download this type of adware to get a free product. Also, you might choose to allow it to collect marketing info. Sometimes the accompanying personalized ads or sponsored third-party software can be desirable.
Adware developed by legitimate means is created by all types of developers — even highly reputable ones. It’s a valid, legal, and ethical way to give customers a free product.
However, not all application downloads are consensual. This is where legal lines come into play.
Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) include any program you might not have chosen to install onto your device. These may also be called potentially unwanted programs (PUPs).
PUA adware may be in a moral grey area or fully malicious and illegal. It depends on the goals of the software and those who distribute it.
When we talk about “adware,” we usually refer to these PUA types. The programs that abuse ads and open the door for malware are the threats you’ll want to avoid most of all.
To be clear, adware PUA is illegal if there is:
Adware PUA can be frustrating regardless of legality and can easily go undetected for a long time. To avoid any invasive or tedious software, you should know what to look for.
The above adware definition means that other than causing malvertising — displaying advertisements and collecting data — adware PUA doesn’t generally make its presence known.
Usually, there will be no signs of unwanted programs in your computer’s system tray, and no indication in your program menu that files have been installed on your machine.
Adware PUA can infect any of your devices, including computers and mobile platforms.
There are two main ways in which Adware can get onto your devices:
Once it is on your device, it may cause performance issues and compromise your privacy.
While there may be many ways in which an adware infection can cause you problems, there are some common ones.
One major indicator of an adware infection is that you may have asked yourself, “how do I stop commercials on my computer?" Other symptoms of adware PUA include the following:
These adware symptoms indicate some common examples of adware PUA infections.
Adware PUA has gotten more aggressive in recent years. We’ve seen some software embed itself deep into systems with rootkits to make removal challenging.
If you’re infected, you’ll need to take steps to clean your system of the offending applications.
Adware PUA removal will help fix adware problems like obnoxious popups and hidden spyware.
Manual removal does not guarantee you’ll find all the components. For a reliable solution, cybersecurity software will assist you in cleaning anything you wouldn’t find on your own.
To break it down, you’ll need to detect and take action on each of the following issues:
Installing a product that has “anti-adware” abilities will be your first step. Software suites like Kaspersky Internet Security offer system scanning and removal of adware and other threats.
Checking that your security software’s adware detection settings are active is your next step. Your security software might not detect and remove adware by default. As we mentioned earlier, many reputable software programs are ad-supported to offer their software for free.
Often, legitimate adware programs do not have any uninstall procedures of adware components. Some can use technologies that are similar to those used by viruses to penetrate your computer and run unnoticed. This again is not inherently malicious, as the ads are part of your agreement for getting free software.
Note: Many freeware and shareware programs stop displaying adverts as soon as you’ve registered or purchased the program. However, some programs use built-in, third-party adware utilities. These utilities can remain installed on your computer after you’ve registered or purchased the program. If you remove the adware component that may cause the program to malfunction. This is legitimate and should not be disrupted if you’ve consented to the terms of the product. If you feel unsafe, stop using the product and remove it entirely.
Since there may be valid reasons why adware is present on your computer, antivirus solutions may not be able to determine whether a specific adware program poses a threat to you.
Kaspersky’s products give you the option to detect adware — and how to react to it:
Option #1: Adware removal. Kaspersky’s antivirus software will help you to get rid of the adware. There can be many reasons why you suspect that an adware program — detected by Kaspersky’s antivirus engine — may be a threat:
Option #2: Choosing not to detect adware. Kaspersky products let you disable the option to detect these programs – or let you add specific programs to a list of exceptions – so that the antivirus engine will not flag this adware as malicious. You might do this if:
Cleaning out unwanted adware and other PUA is a solid start for boosting your cybersecurity. To minimize your risks, it is important to know how to prevent adware infections in the future.
Preventing adware is the best way to avoid having to deal with these issues in the first place.
Practicing healthy upkeep of your computer and behaving safely is good for your security as a whole. In general, you’ll be more protected against all cyber threats if you:
When you’re downloading free computer software, mobile apps, or browsing the web:
If you have antivirus security software like Kaspersky Total Security, you already have one of the best solutions to protect against adware.
Because security software actively guards against malicious or PUA app downloads, scans attachments and links, and blocks popups. Your behavior in the digital world is your first line of defense. However, cybersecurity programs are essential when it comes to protecting yourself against adware threats.