What is Adware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Adware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Adware?

Picture this: you’re browsing the internet, minding your own business, when suddenly your screen is bombarded with pop-up ads. It’s frustrating, right? You’re not alone. Adware has become a widespread nuisance, and it’s crucial to understand what it is, how it works, and most importantly, how to protect your devices from it.

In this blog post, we’ll take you on a journey through the world of adware, providing you with the knowledge and tools to combat this irritating and potentially dangerous form of malicious software.


  • Adware is a form of malware that automatically displays or downloads unwanted advertisements on a user’s device, often as a result of installing free software.

  • These intrusive ads can be annoying, potentially compromise privacy, and may even introduce other malware to the user’s device.

  • Employing reliable antivirus software, careful downloading practices, and the use of ad-blocking tools can help protect against adware.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding Adware

Adware, short for “advertising-supported software,” is a type of malicious software that displays unwanted advertisements on your computer or mobile device. It’s designed to generate revenue for software developers, who often bundle ads with free software to offer their products at no cost. Although some adware is considered legitimate, such as advertising-supported mobile apps, malicious adware poses a significant threat to users’ privacy and security.

Legitimate adware, or advertising-supported software, is designed to display advertisements with the user’s permission. This type of ads generates revenue for developers by showing ads within the user interface of free software or mobile apps. However, the line between legitimate and malicious adware can sometimes blur, with potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) acting as a gateway to more harmful and invasive adware. PUPs might be bundled into free software downloads without the user’s knowledge and display ads without permission.

On the other hand, malicious adware is designed to secretly introduce harmful software onto a user’s device, often disguised as legitimate ads or bundled with PUPs. This type of adware can lead to a variety of issues, such as slowing down your device, exposing you to cyber threats, and even tracking and selling your personal data to third parties. It’s crucial to understand the difference between legitimate and malicious ads to protect your devices and privacy.

How Adware Infects Devices

Adware can find its way onto your devices through various means. One of the most common ways is through software downloads, particularly free programs like freeware or shareware. Adware can be bundled into these downloads without your knowledge, leading to unwanted advertisements and potentially more dangerous malware. Additionally, security flaws in web browsers can leave your device vulnerable to adware infection, as well as malicious ads on web pages that, when clicked, can install adware directly onto your device.

Besides the more common methods of infection, adware can also target mobile devices, including both Android and iOS devices. Malicious apps from third-party app stores or even legitimate app stores like Google Play can contain adware, which can infiltrate your device and display persistent ads. It’s essential to be vigilant when downloading apps and browsing the internet to reduce the risk of adware infection on your devices.

Categories of Adware

As we touched upon earlier, there are two main categories of adware: legitimate adware and potentially unwanted applications (PUAs). Legitimate ads are designed to display ads with the user’s permission and are bundled with free software or mobile apps to generate revenue for developers. This type of adware is generally considered legal and is less invasive than its malicious counterpart.

Malicious adware, on the other hand, often contains harmful software that can lead to a range of problems for the user, including privacy breaches and security threats. This type of adware is usually disguised as legitimate ads or buried within PUAs, making it difficult for users to differentiate between safe and dangerous advertising-supported software.

Understanding the different categories of adware is crucial to protect your devices from potential harm and maintain your privacy.

Detecting Adware Infections

Detecting adware infections can be tricky, but there are some common signs that can help you identify if your device has been compromised. These symptoms include frequent pop-up ads, slow device performance, an influx of unwanted advertisements and pop-ups, diminished storage space, and the presence of suspicious files or apps.

The specific symptoms can vary depending on whether the adware is targeting desktop or mobile devices, so let’s take a closer look at the different indicators for each platform.

Desktop Adware Symptoms

If you suspect that your desktop computer might be infected with adware, there are several symptoms to look out for. Frequent pop-up ads, browser redirects, slow performance, lack of storage space, and suspicious internet traffic can all be indicators of an adware infection. Adware can have a significant impact on your internet experience. It does this by downloading a large number of ads from the web, which can cause your connection to be slow.

Other tell-tale signs of adware on a desktop computer include an increase in advertisements, changes to your browser settings (such as a new default search engine or homepage), and the installation of unwanted browser extensions. If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take action to remove the adware and protect your device from potential harm.

Mobile Adware Symptoms

Mobile devices are not immune to adware infections, and there are several signs that your smartphone or tablet might be affected. Intrusive ads that disrupt the user experience, unusual app behavior (such as crashing or freezing), and rapid battery drain can all be indicators of mobile adware. Intrusive ads, in particular, can be a significant annoyance, as they often pop up unexpectedly and interfere with your device usage.

Another sign of mobile adware is the presence of apps that you don’t recognize or don’t remember downloading. These apps might have been installed without your knowledge and could be responsible for the barrage of ads and other issues you’re experiencing on your device.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action and remove the adware from your mobile device to prevent further damage and protect your privacy.

Adware Removal Techniques

Once you’ve detected the presence of adware on your device, the next step is to remove it. There are several methods for adware removal, including using cybersecurity software and manually identifying and uninstalling the adware program.

The specific removal techniques can vary depending on the type of device (Windows, Mac, or mobile), so let’s explore the recommended methods for each platform.

Removing Adware on Windows

To remove adware from a Windows device, you can start by going to the Add/Remove Programs list in the Windows Control Panel and uninstalling the unwanted program. This manual method can be effective in some cases, but it’s often recommended to use antivirus software to ensure that all traces of the adware are removed from your device.

There are numerous antivirus tools available that can help you remove adware from your Windows device, such as Norton, Bitdefender, or McAfee. These tools can scan your device for adware and other malicious programs, allowing you to remove them safely and efficiently.

It’s essential to choose a reliable and trustworthy antivirus tool to ensure the best protection for your device.

Eliminating Adware on Mac

Mac users can also be affected by adware, and there are several methods for removing it from your device. One option is to manually delete any suspicious files or folders that might be related to the adware. However, this method can be time-consuming and may not always be effective in completely removing the adware.

A more thorough option is to use antivirus software specifically designed for Mac devices, such as Norton 360 or Bitdefender for Mac. These tools can scan your device for adware and other malicious programs, allowing you to remove them safely and efficiently.

Eradicating Adware on Mobile Devices

Removing ads from Android and iOS devices can be a bit trickier, but there are still some effective methods to try. One approach is to reboot your device in safe mode and manually remove the problematic apps. This method can be effective in some cases, but it might not always completely remove the adware.

Another option is to use antivirus software specifically designed for mobile devices. Many reputable antivirus programs offer mobile versions that can scan your device for adware and other malicious apps, allowing you to remove them safely and efficiently.

In addition to using antivirus software, it’s important to practice safe browsing habits and download apps only from trusted sources to prevent future adware infections.

Prevention Strategies Against Adware

Preventing adware infections is crucial to maintaining the security and performance of your devices. Some effective prevention strategies include using antivirus and anti-malware tools, being cautious when downloading and installing free software, avoiding clicking on ads or notices, keeping software up to date, and using an adblocker. These measures can help protect your devices from adware and other online threats.

Keeping your software updated is especially important, as it ensures that you have the latest security patches to protect against adware infections. Using an adblocker can also be beneficial, as it helps prevent malicious ads from appearing on websites and reduces the risk of adware infection.

By practicing these prevention strategies, you can safeguard your devices and maintain your privacy.

Legal Aspects of Adware

Adware exists in a somewhat murky legal area, with distinctions between legal and illegal forms of adware often hinging on user consent and privacy considerations. Legal ads are software that displays ads with the user’s permission, typically within the user interface of free software or mobile apps. This type of adware is generally considered legal as long as it doesn’t contain any malicious components or violate the user’s privacy.

Illegal adware, on the other hand, is third-party software that surreptitiously adds malicious ad software to a device without the user’s knowledge. This type of adware often tracks and sells users’ browsing history without their consent, potentially leading to significant privacy breaches and security threats.

Understanding the legal implications of adware is vital to protect yourself from potential harm and maintain your privacy.


Adware is an increasingly prevalent issue that affects millions of users worldwide. By understanding the different types of adware, how they infect devices, and the potential consequences of malicious adware, you can take steps to protect your devices and privacy. Employing prevention strategies, such as regular software updates and using antivirus tools, can help you stay ahead of adware threats and maintain a safe and secure digital environment. With the knowledge and tools provided in this blog post, you’re now better equipped to combat adware and take control of your online experience.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is adware?

Adware is designed to bombard your device with intrusive advertisements and pop-ups. These malicious programs can be difficult to detect and remove, making them a nuisance for users to manage.

Adware can be spread through malicious websites, email attachments, and even legitimate software downloads. It is important to be aware of the risks associated with adware and take steps to protect your computer.

Is adware malware or not?

Adware is a type of malicious software that displays unwanted advertisements on users’ devices. It is installed without the user’s knowledge and can be difficult to remove.

Adware is definitely considered malware and should not be ignored as it can compromise your privacy and security.

How do I know if I have adware?

If you experience any of these signs, it’s a good indication that you have adware on your system: unexpected pop-up ads, changes to your web browser home page, reduced device performance, crashing of your device, slower internet speeds, and redirected internet searches.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to check for adware.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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