Home » What is adware, and how can it affect your security

What is adware, and how can it affect your security

November 01, 2022 • security

With the world now more technology-based than ever before, there has been a significant rise in digital data. Individuals, businesses, and government agencies store data electronically on computers, which is then sent from one computer to other devices on a network regularly. 

Vulnerabilities and loopholes exist in computers as well as their entire systems. If someone attacks these weak points, it could cause significant problems for the individual or the company, which is why cybersecurity is vital. It protects our electronic devices and data from unauthorized access or data theft. 

A system breach that enables attacker access can have detrimental consequences. According to recent studies, the average data breach costs organizations close to USD 4 million.

High-profile data breaches often make headlines, damaging a company’s reputation, which is why organizations need a robust cybersecurity system.

Businesses advertising in the digital environment

Data is nowadays one of the most important things for businesses. It allows them to analyze consumer behavior, track sales and profits, predict future trends, etc.

With the average person spending two hours and 24 minutes on social media daily, it’s no wonder businesses are taking their digital advertising. But only some of these methods are legitimate.

Many people get extremely frustrated with pop-up ads when trying to work or scroll through social media. These pop-ups are caused by advertising-supported software, also known as adware.

What is Adware?

Adware is flooding users with unending ads and pop-up windows, causing a terrible user experience. Adware is not only incredibly annoying, but it can also jeopardize the safety of your device. The undesired ads might contain malware or send users to harmful websites that collect private information. Adware is commonly found in freeware or shareware programs. The adware operator gets paid an indirect fee by using these infected programs. Adware programs usually stealthily avoid detection in the system. Frequently, adware programs do not include a de-installation procedure. Additionally, if you try to remove them manually, it might cause the carrier program to malfunction.

Types of adware

Adware comes in two forms: legitimate and malicious.

Legitimate adware or harmless adware

It’s a legal form of advertising that you’ve probably come across before. Most adware isn’t harmful and is created by reputable developers. With legitimate adware, you always consent before any ads or software promos are sent.  

The ad revenue generated offsets the cost of the software, making it more affordable and accessible to users. The software developer can sometimes provide the product for free if the revenue is high enough. Most people download adware after seeing an offer for something free or discounted. 

Understand that when you download an app, you are likely giving the company permission to collect your data for marketing purposes. For example, many software and application companies will offer a “free with ads” version of their product bundled with adware.

Harmful adware or applications (PUAs)

Programs you didn’t mean to download onto your device are called “potentially unwanted applications” (PUAs). You usually find them included in other utterly safe software programs. Also known as potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), this kind of adware can slow your device, show strange ads, or install other software you don’t want. The term “PUA” is not always indicative of a destructive app; sometimes, it is used for apps with poor reputations.

It’s hard to tell if PUA adware is malicious or not because it all depends on the people distributing it and their intentions. Some adware is only designed to show you ads incessantly. Even if the ads are for seemingly innocuous things like diet pills, it’s legal as long as the website doesn’t also contain malware.  

The term “adware” often refers to abusive ads and programs that open the door for malware. This illegal adware spreads malicious software such as spyware, viruses, or other harmful programs onto devices. This type of adware can make it more challenging to find malware infections, so getting rid of them requires more time and money.

Consequences of having adware

Changing configurations

Adware is often problematic since it can reroute your computer’s settings, making it a pain to start up your device. Some products will change your computer’s home page or search engine. Others might even reconfigure your entire system. Once they change something, it usually becomes permanent and difficult to undo. You might not be able to go back because having adware can complicate the restart process.

Slowing your computer down

As annoying as they can be, pop-up ads are the least of your worries regarding adware. Not only is adware frustrating, but it can also make your computer run slowly. Gradually but surely, your computer will run more slowly as adware takes up space and resources on your system. The more harmful adware that gets into your system, the more difficult it will be for you to do things.

 As your computer carries out more tasks, it slows down. It needs to fulfil your requests and those from the harmful adware running in the background, such as online tracking, popping up ads, and monitoring your usage.

 A computer can freeze or crash when too many processes are running at the same time for it to handle, and this can be frustrating.

Relaying information

Some types of harmful adware are much worse. These rarer types can track what you do online, just as spyware can, to help target suitable ads.

 In certain situations, the harmful adware can take pictures of the websites you visit and the information inputted. The harmful adware may send these images back to the source of said adware. Your personal information, such as your credit card information, addresses, and other sensitive information you enter online, can be relayed back to the source. 

 While spyware and adware causing identity theft might not happen as frequently as other crimes, they’re still striking enough that you should take steps to protect yourself.

How to protect your computer from adware

Ignoring adware and spyware is not an option for most people. When you are online, it is something that needs to be on your mind. However, there are multiple ways you can protect yourself from these types of issues effectively and safely:

Install anti-Spyware Programs

These programs work by scanning and removing any harmful files or infections from your system, similar to how a virus program would. Not only does this software protect against current spyware, but it also offers a firewall that will help to prevent any future infestations.

Beware Of What’s Out There

Out of all the programs available, you need to know which ones have the most potential to harm. Many popular programs have adware or spyware waiting to pounce.

Implement security measures

Implementing specific security measures to protect your computer from future adware and spyware invasions would be best. By employing these methods, you will be saving yourself from making security mistakes that could put you at risk:

  • Get an antivirus software
  • Update your software regularly
  • Uninstall unknown and unnecessary programs
  • Install an adware removal tool and run scans frequently

By researching the variety of options available, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which protection against spyware and adware is best for you.

While you cannot be online without encountering some form of spyware or adware, there are ways to protect yourself from it. You can decrease your chances of acquiring harmful software by being vigilant and taking a few simple measures.

Educate your family

Anytime you receive new information on spyware and adware, communicate it with the whole family or anyone using your computer. Even children are susceptible to spyware and adware if they’re not careful. Just a single click can lead to its infection. 

 If you educate your children about this type of threat, it will help to reduce the effectiveness of the program. If your child knows how to use a computer, they likely understand the dangers that come with it. Please give them a checklist for protecting themselves and your computer investment.

How to tell if your device has adware

Your device may be slower than expected.

Adware can lead to decreased performance on your device if not removed. Adware can cause your device to run slowly or crash if it gets into your operating system.

The battery life is poor.

When you download adware accidentally, your device’s overall performance declines because it has to work harder to support the malware. The overall performance can cause your device’s battery to run low quickly. If your device is overheating or feels hot to the touch, there may be an issue.

Your web browser homepage has changed without you knowing.

Adware serves many purposes. For example, adware programs can infest your devices and change your settings without you even realizing it. They might set a new homepage on your web browser or search engine or go through your browsing history without permission. When you search for something on the internet and get redirected to an advertisement or another site, it’s called browser hijacking.

Annoying pop-up messages

If you have adware installed, you may see more ads than usual, even when you’re not using the internet, especially if the windows generated can’t be closed quickly. Often, the ads we see pop up on websites are from other sources.

Strange apps on your device

Check your computer and mobile device regularly for apps you have yet to download. They could be housing adware causing your computer to crash and your phone battery to drain quickly.

To sum up

Adware can be a considerable inconvenience and threat to your device’s security. Don’t let it take control of your appliance – take control of the situation. Stay informed, update regularly, and educate those around you about the dangers of adware. These steps can protect you from future infestations and remove any current issues.

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admin is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.