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What is Adware? 5 ways it harms your device and 8 ways to tackle it

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  • 6 min read

Adware is a malicious software that displays unwanted advertisements on a device in pop-up windows, on toolbars or browsers, which is aimed at generating revenue for the attacker controlling the adware. Adware can be inserted into a software by its developer or can enter through a security loophole in the system or the app.

First emerged on Mac and Windows PC, Adware infections has become more prominent on smartphones in recent years, especially Androids. The most common sources of adware are bundled software downloaded from unverified sources — such as Softonic, Cnet, Cydia and other websites offering freeware or shareware — or an infected apk file of an app for Android or iOS, among others.

If you’re seeing an unusual amount of ads on your PC or smartphone, popping up randomly on the display, in-app, in your browser, chances are that your device has been infected by adware.

To minimise the chances of getting your device infected, it’s always recommended to only download the software from official sources such as Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Windows and Mac app stores or the developer’s website. It’s also advisable to not download the free versions of paid software as most likely you’re getting add-ons in the form of malware that your device is better without.

Read on to find out more about how Adware can harm your device and what you can do to protect yourself.

Also read: What is a Spyware and ways to counter it

How to protect your device?

A user can protect the device by the following methods.

Using ad blocker and avoiding malicious ads

Ad blockers prevent the ads from popping up. This eliminates the chance of clicking on malicious ads and the harms associated with it. If you’re not too sure about which ads are malicious, trust Google when it tells you not to enter a website or else avoid poor-looking ads that offer some reward or free software.

Using a premium version of the software

Buying the software — instead of downloading it for free alongwith some other unwanted malicious programs — is always a good idea. This applies to both PC and smartphones.

Deleting the malicious software

If a user notices an increase in ads after installing a particular software on the device, then they should delete the software promptly. Removing the software might solve the problem. Check out this article to learn more.

Reading the end-user license agreement

What is EULA (End User License Agreement)? Why is it used?

The end-user license agreement (EULA) establishes a contract between the user and the company. EULA may contain information but the data gathering mechanisms that the software will use. The user should, if not carefully, at least skim through the agreement before downloading any software.

Using Anti-virus

Anti-virus software can detect adware and remove it. However, adware and spyware codes can make indirect modifications to the system, making them difficult to detect. For example, adware can make changes to the homepage of the browser whose previous value is unknown to the anti-virus, and this can cause it not to be able to detect the problem completely. Moreover, some adware can also remove anti-virus software.

Turning on the firewall

A firewall is a protective layer that allows only specific authorised data to enter or leave the network, thereby protecting the device and the network as a whole.

Buying quality devices

Certain low-end devices come with adware installed in the system. In addition to performing suspicious functions, these are hard to detect. To avoid this, a user must buy devices from well-known brands.

Regularly updating the system and applications

Last but not least, periodically updating the system can protect the device to a great extent. Updating lowers the risk of new and more harmful adware attacks.

Also read: Why is Cyber Security important? 5 tips to protect yourself

How can Adware harm a device?

What is Formjacking? How it works and how to protect yourselfIn addition to showing you ads and generating illegitimate revenue for the attacker, Adware can also harm the device through the following methods, as well as, aide the advertising module.

Gathering user data

Adware can monitor the computing habits of the consumers and send back the data to third parties. The data is of tremendous importance to the companies, which is then used for ad targeting. Adware can also gather confidential information (credit card numbers, username, passwords, etc.) and sends it to the remote servers.

Aggregating browsing habits

The IP addresses of the website that users visit are sent back to the servers. The server responds by sending related links to the browser. A user, by clicking on the link, sends the link identifier back to the remote server. The links are useful for the aggregation of the marketing data of popular links.

Creating user profiles

What is Adware and how can you protect your device?Aggregation of various data along with other information like the country, gender, income bracket, among others, can create a complete user profile. User profiling can create risks such as spying and surveillance.

Slowing down the browser

Adware might also add additional and unwanted toolbars on the browser which slows it. Alongwith it, browser homepage can also be modified by the adware, leading to further hassles for the user. Furthermore, browser settings can also be altered to show only the malicious websites. Sometimes, the changes in the browser are irreversible.

Changing the system settings

Adware can change the system settings, which makes the system more vulnerable. Change in settings can make the device vulnerable even more.

If a user sees a sudden increase in the pop-ups or the device is unusually slow, then he must follow the above steps promptly to save the system, and more importantly, safeguard their privacy.

Also read: What is Formjacking, how it works and protective measures

Featured Image by portal gda | Flickr

Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: