What is Adware? Definition and Analysis in depth

by Olivia Morelli - - Updated | Type: Adware

Adware is a suspicious group of programs that flood web browsers with ads

Adware is a potentially unwanted program (PUP) that delivers advertisements, flashing pop-up windows, banners, in-text links, auto-play video commercials, and other commercial content on the browsers. Additionally, this ad-supported application can initiate redirects to various websites and collect browsing-related information without the user’s permission.

The main purpose of adware programs is to bring easy profit for their creators. To achieve this goal, malware infiltrates the popular web browsers and embeds them with previously mentioned promotional content. These advertisements are meant to grasp users’ attention and steer them straight to the affiliate websites, this way increasing their attendance and boosting their popularity or sales. That's why they include celebrity's images, huge logos of well-known companies or tempting sums of money.[1]

Due to the excessive amount of advertisements, adware-ridden browsers often become impossible. Unfortunately, slowdowns or unexpected crashes, forcing the victims to look for adware removal solutions.

Adware in 2019: What to expect from ad-supported apps developers next year?

Adware has been causing numerous problems for the computer users worldwide. However, during this year, ad-supported apps have started targeting mobile users and those who have been relying on Mac OS X. Researchers report about increasing number of adware infections in 2018 that not only display sponsored content on users' browsers but keep promoting Tech support scams as well. Unfortunately, more aggressive forms of advertising are expected during the next year.

Adware typically sends hundreds ads to the user
adware definition used to describe applications that displays commercial content.

In 2018 we have also been seeing adware which is actively targeting Mac OS X users. It seems that today there is no big difference which operating system is used and this tiny line will fully disappear in 2019. Unfortunately, numerous Mac users still believe that their Macs are immune to cyber threats. This way, they become even more vulnerable as they do not consider installing antivirus software.[2]

Though, security experts suggest to protect computers, laptops and mobile devices by following this simple tips helping users to prevent a need for adware removal:

  • invest in reputable security software;
  • do not download suspicious programs or apps from unknown sources or created by untrusted developers;
  • install software properly, using Advanced/Custom settings to avoid infiltration of undesired apps;
  • do not agree to download any browser extensions, toolbars or security programs from ads, pop-ups or redirect websites.

Adware in Safari browser
Adware examples in Safari

Differences between adware and adware.gen

Adware is a wide term used for described numerous different applications that are used for displaying commercial content. Meanwhile, adware.gen represents a group of malware that shares similar features or belongs to the same family. Typically, reputable security programs can identify relations between the programs.

Variations of adware.gen might also refer to more dangerous cyber infections than adware, for instance, Trojans that might steal banking information or credentials. Major antivirus programs can detect these cyber threats. Thus, if the browser or computer became sluggish due to the increased amount of ads, it’s recommended to scan the device with reputable security software for a full adware removal.

Adware functionality and different malicious techniques

When the adware targets a computer, it first deploys its malicious files on the system to be able to execute its intended functions. After this stage of the attack is complete, and the virus settles in, that’s when the hijack symptoms start taking their toll. Here is a list of the typical features that manifest on the infected devices and primary reasons for the adware removal:

  • Pop-up ads, banners, and in-text links. This content is supposed to promote affiliate parties that are seeking to increase their popularity or sales.
  • Redirects. Ad-based malware tends to reroute users to affiliate websites with or without their permission. Such activity is also initiated for trying to increase web traffic to these websites.
  • Unauthorized installations. Often, the victims witness the attempts to install additional third-party software, the so-called browser helper objects (BHO’s)[3] without their permission. Unauthorized installations are typically used either to promote the software or to use it as tools for tracking user’s browsing habits. Keep in mind that such parasites are typically tricky to remove, so system scan with some security software is always recommended.  
  • Tracking. People’s activity on the Internet is of special interest to these ad-based programs. Gathering the information about their interests, mostly viewed websites, entered data, etc. allows advertisers to create more appealing content. Nevertheless, some of the more malicious programs may even endanger the more sensitive data such as logins, email address, computer’s IP address, and its location.
  • System performance issues. Some parasites are poorly programmed, meaning they can cause various malfunctions, including system slowdowns and computer’s instability.
  • Arbitrary updates. These potentially unwanted programs are capable of updating themselves via the Internet without notifying the user. This is why experts recommend to hurry up with the removal before the parasite residing on your PC receives an injection of some new malicious features.
  • Adware removal prevention. Most of the ad-supported viruses lack uninstall feature, or it turns out to be useless. This elimination prevention mechanism allows the program to continue operating on the computer without restrictions.

To remain stealthy, the adware may disguise its working components as elements of legitimate applications which help the malware run on the system undetected for an extended period of time. Of course, it all depends on a particular virus, but most of these parasites invade computers the same way Trojan horses do. Therefore, the previously listed behavior cannot be terminated that easily. In fact, the victims must remove the virus from the computer very carefully, so that no malicious components are left to continue running on the system.

Adware on IE
Adware examples in Internet Explorer

Adware distribution strategies used by developers

Adware programs do not spread around like most viruses. As we mentioned earlier, they may apply Trojan-like principles for the system infiltration, but generally, they do not need additional software or special conditions to arrange and carry out a successful system hijack. Typically, such threats rely on three basic distribution techniques leading their victims to adware removal:

1. Misleading official websites

Most ad-supported programs have their official websites presenting them as handy tools, for instance, powerful browser add-ons, useful shopping assistants or amusing gaming plugins. If you fall into believing that such an application is capable of helping you to save the money, you may end up with a nasty virus on your computer. That is why it is always recommended to conduct a little research and learn more about the program you are about to install before hitting the download button. The latest reports reveal that you cannot be sure about the content you are presented even if you use the official stores, e.g. Google Play.[4]

2. Fake pop-up ads

Clicking on misleading pop-ups can also be dangerous and may lead you to the infiltration of the annoying advertising programs. Such browser notifications typically “recommend” downloading missing software updates, various security products, free system scans and propose similar attention-grabbing offers. Security experts recommend ignoring such content and remind that the safest way to update/install the required programs is by accessing their official websites.

3. Bundling

There are lots of free programs (freeware and shareware products) that have been bundled with adware. Such deceptive software packages are typically promoted on unreliable software sharing sites or peer-to-peer networks. If you tend to visit these places often, you may end up downloading a browser add-on, extension, plugin, toolbar with an advertising revenue-oriented parasite hidden in the list of recommended installs.

The worst part of the hijack is that even if you remove the host application, it will not help to get rid of its undesirable companion. Only the professional tools, such as anti-malware or antivirus suites can really banish it from the computer. This distribution method is the most common when promoting similar parasites, such as browser hijackers. To protect themselves, users should always select either “Custom” or “Advanced” installation modes when setting up freeware on their computers.

Adware on Mozilla FF
Adware examples in Mozilla Firefox

Adware removal guides for different browsers

Adware can affect all popular web browsers, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari, that are installed on Windows and Mac OS X computers. Removal of the adware is similar to each web browsers. Typically, it requires uninstalling suspicious add-on and resetting the browser. Though, we would briefly explain how to remove adware from popular browsers.

Removing adware from Chrome

Google Chrome is one of the most popular browsers to be targeted by greedy advertisers, so its users are constantly looking for a professional removal advice. Sadly, there is no magic technique that will rid the system of all malware without exception. Indeed, though their working principles may be similar, every virus is unique so adware removal strategies must be fitted according to the particular infection. For some viruses, a simple Chrome reset may be enough, while others may require an entire system cleanup to be rooted out from the computer completely. In any case, you should be prepared and always have a trustworthy anti-malware tool at hand to help you along.

Getting rid of adware in Internet Explorer

Unlike what most users may think, browser recovery does not necessarily start with the reset (go to Explorer reset instructions). There are lots of other things that must be done before you can remove adware from Windows for good. First, you must investigate the system for potentially unwanted programs and remove them, preferably, with the help of a professional anti-virus software. Then, you should examine the browser’s list of extensions and delete the unfamiliar entries. After these steps are completed, you may then perform the browser reset.

If you are using Internet Explorer, it might be that your computer is also running an older version of Windows. In the past, IE has been scolded by users for being prone to malware attacks. This is probably one of the reasons Microsoft has turned to Microsoft Edge in Windows 10. Though the new browser is not completely resilient to viruses, it is not worth questioning, whether you should choose it over the Internet Explorer.

Fix Microsoft Edge after the adware attack

Microsoft Edge is a new and improved browser from Microsoft designed specifically for Windows 10 operating systems. Unfortunately, despite the refined cyber attack resistance capacities, this browser also gets targeted by malware, and the parasites which infect it often apply advanced techniques to achieve that. The next-gen viruses may also hide on the system preventing adware removal from Edge. You may bypass these obstacles by employing anti-malware tools and using them to scan the infected system. This way, you will remove the malware from your computer much quicker, and will be able to get back to your default Microsoft Edge settings sooner as well. If you need help, follow Edge reset instructions.

Remove adware-related components from Mozilla Firefox 

Mozilla Firefox runs both on Windows and Mac OS X operating systems which tempts malware creators to use it for their attacks. They may hide the virus files inside the system in order to prevent the victims from eliminating adware from Mozilla Firefox properly. Luckily, reputable security utilities block the malicious activities and remove the infectious components from the system, so be sure to run a system scan with one of such tools to get back to your regular browsing safely. Do not forget to reset Mozilla Firefox default parameters when the system scan is done! Click the link “How to reset Mozilla Firefox?” or type this into the search bar on the top right corner of the screen to find a bunch of useful browser reset tips prepared by our experts.

Stop ads and redirects in Safari

Safari is no longer a safe haven where the Apple users can hide from malware. There are numerous ad-revenue hungry programs that infect these browsers as well. Fortunately, our experts have accumulated a sophisticated knowledge base which is used to compile tutorials that help desperate users remove adware from Mac OS X and its signature browser. You may use these adware removal guidelines next to all the new Safari-based threats.

Despite the usual success of manual elimination, numerous cases have also shown that such computer cleanup approach can be complicated because potentially unwanted programs typically travel around bundled with various other components. To avoid leaving unwanted files on your computer, you should always rely on specialized virus-fighting software and clean your device automatically. However, you should always read reviews of reputable security experts to prevent fake security software on your Mac.[5] Additionally, after the automatic scan, Safari reset is also needed.

Adware on Google Chrome browser
Adware examples in Google Chrome

Conclusion on Adware removal. The easiest way to stay adware free

The most reliable way to remove adware and its components from the corrupted devices is by using a legitimate anti-spyware program. In this case, you should choose carefully because there are lots of misleading reviews on the Internet that may praise completely useless products. Always read the reviews or consult security advisors before obtaining one just to be safe.

Keep in mind that only reputable and acknowledged anti-malware software has regularly updated virus databases which allow them to detect and eliminate the latest malware infections. Besides, investing in such tools will pay off in the future as they will prevent malware attacks. Our team recommends cleaning computers from adware using Reimage or Plumbytes Anti-MalwareMalwarebytes Malwarebytes. However, feel free to choose your preferred adware removal tools.

Our recommended programs can easily detect and eliminate the latest cyber threats. Though, before running a full system scan with anti-malware tool, you should update it. It helps to make sure that your software has an up-to-date database and can clean all adware-related entries.

Nevertheless, you should remember that automatic scan will only delete the adware components from your computer, whereas you will have to perform the browser reset yourself. 

References

Latest adware added to the database

Information updated: 2018-08-08

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