What is Adware?
Top 5 Types & Examples
Has your usually reliable browser become slow or unresponsive overnight? Are you bombarded with obtrusive pop-up ads urging you to install software updates, enter personal information, or allow browser notifications? Does clicking on website links take you to weird websites with suspicious content? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your computer may be infected with adware.
Key takeaway: Adware is a piece of software that displays ads. Malicious adware takes control of your browser to track your activity, show you deceptive ads, and redirect you to suspicious websites. In severe cases, it can even take control of your whole computer. Read on to learn about the most common types of adware, or head to our comparison of the best antivirus software for Windows to protect yourself from it.
What Is Adware?
By definition, adware is any piece of software, malicious or not, that displays advertisements on a computer. Most often, however, people use the word adware to refer to malicious software that shows deceptive ads, flashing pop-up windows, large banners, and full-screen auto-play commercials within their web browser. Its name is a compound of the words advertising and software.
All adware is designed to generate revenue for its developer every time a user clicks on an advert it shows. Some types of adware may obstruct your web-surfing experience by redirecting you to malicious sites with adult content. There are also types that gather your browsing data without permission and use it to serve you ads that are more relevant to your tastes and that you will thus be more likely to click on.
What Examples of Adware Exist?
There are hundreds of known adware programs that can affect your computer in different ways. Some of the most common and/or best known include the following:
Fireball made news in 2017 when a study ordered by an Israeli software company found that more than 250 million computers and one-fifth of corporate networks around the world were infected with it.
Developed by Rafotech, a Chinese digital marketing agency, Fireball is a browser hijacker. It is bundled with other software created by Rafotech – including Mustang Browser and Deal Wifi – and installed along with these programs unbeknownst to the user. When it affects your computer, it takes over your browser. It changes your homepage to a fake search engine (Trotux) and inserts obtrusive ads into any webpage you visit. To make matters worse, it prevents you from modifying your browser settings.
There’s still no proof that this adware does anything else besides hijacking your browser and flooding it with ads. However, experts are worried that if Rafotech decided to launch a cyber attack using Fireball, the consequences would be devastating simply based on the number of infected systems worldwide.
Appearch is another very common adware program that acts as a browser hijacker. Usually bundled with other free software, it inserts so many ads into the browser that it makes surfing next-to-impossible.
Whenever you attempt to visit a website, you will be taken to Appearch.info instead. Even if you manage to open a webpage, Appearch will convert random blocks of text on it into links, so whenever you select text, a pop-up will appear offering you to download software updates.
In addition to ads, Appearch will sometimes show you a message telling you that the access to the website you want to visit is limited. It will then ask you to subscribe to notifications to access it. If you click on “Allow”, you will start seeing pop-up ads on your screen even when your browser is closed. Once you subscribe, the program will override your browser settings to prevent you from opting out.
Although now long-inactive, DollarRevenue is interesting because it was one of the first major adware programs to affect millions of computers worldwide. It would install a browser toolbar on the affected computer to track the internet searches performed on the computer. On top of that, the program would also show deceptive ads, both on-page and in the form of pop-up windows.
Developed in 2005 in the Netherlands, it had infected more than 22 million computers worldwide by late 2007. What’s more, an investigation conducted by the Dutch telecommunications watchdog found that DollarRevenue was instrumental in a number of botnet attacks that affected thousands of computers.
The creators were fined one million euros in 2007, but the decision was overturned six years later.
Another now-inactive adware program, Gator pioneered the concept of behavioral marketing to much controversy. Bundled with popular free software like Kazaa and Go!Zilla, Gator would remove advertising from websites and replace it with its own ads. This meant that if the visitors of a website clicked on an ad, all the profits would go directly to Gator instead of the content creator.
However, Gator was most notorious for its policy of recording people’s complete browsing histories and even parts of their credit card numbers. They would then use this information to serve them with better targeted ads. Although this practice is common nowadays, it was unheard of at the turn of the century.
In 2003, the company behind Gator changed its name to Claria Corporation and continued to release adware until 2006, two years before it was shut down.
DeskAd is another common adware program that shows deceptive ads within your internet browser, redirects your traffic to suspicious websites, and displays pop-up ads. Unlike other similar programs, DeskAd starts off very discreetly only to gradually take full control of your browser. That is why it often goes unnoticed until the problem becomes so serious that only an operating system reinstall can solve it.
Most often distributed via email attachments, DeskAd overrides the computer’s registry so that it can be launched on startup. It also replicates itself, which can take a toll on the memory as well as the processor and cause a crash. If it infects a network of computers, the effects could be devastating.
Symptoms of Adware
If you suspect your computer could be infected with adware, look for one or more of the following signs:
- Your browser has suddenly started working slower than before and/or crashing very often.
- Banners and ads are appearing on websites that never had them before.
- Your homepage has somehow changed and you can’t change it back.
- Every time you want to visit a site, you are redirected to a different page.
- You are noticing new toolbars, plugins, or extensions in your browser.
- Clicking anywhere on the page opens one or more pop-up ads.
- Your computer starts installing unwanted apps without your permission.
How to Remove Adware
There is no universal recipe to remove adware from your computer. Removing some types of adware can be as easy as uninstalling a browser extension and restarting your browser. With some other types of adware, you may need to use adware removal tools to detect and remove them successfully.
Certain types of adware can be so serious that not even the best antivirus software will be able to remove them. In those rare cases, reinstalling your operating system may be the only solution.
Even though most common types of adware aren’t that dangerous, you shouldn’t leave anything to chance on the internet. If you do, not only do you risk losing the files on your computer but your personal information could also be compromised.
To prevent this from happening, you need to install reliable software that will keep your computer protected. That way, you will be able to scan your computer for all kinds of threats – viruses, worms, spyware, malware, and adware – and remove them completely in just a few clicks. The best antivirus software (like Norton, BitDefender, Intego or Panda) will also monitor the system in real time and keep your computer safe from malicious software.
- The Register
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