There are a lot of people who’ve decried the way the Internet has gone from being a genuine open-source information and content resource to by and large a massive, seething marketing tool. That’s a fair enough complaint, but if you’re making it you had better by an average joe and not someone with business (or income) interests in it serving that purpose. Truth is it was going to happen one way or another anyways, and so we’re all well advised to get used to it.
The explosion of advertising that has come with that and assaulted your screen at every opportunity is something you need to tolerate, but with it has come the concurrent explosion of adware that can do all sorts of nefarious things to your web-browsing devices without you being aware of it. These web security threats tend not to rest on their laurels, and these days we’re seeing the threats related to Adware morphing into different and more sneaky forms.
Now of course here at 4GoodHosting, our being a premier Canadian web hosting provider has us fairly front and center for watching all of this transpire in the same way it would be for anyone working in the industry. All of this does beg the question what exactly are the interests of those who put time and effort into building and deploying this adware, but that’s a whole different discussion.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand – There are both emerging and expanding problems related to Adware these days, and keeping yourself insulated from them requires more than it used to. So let’s have a look at all of that today and hopefully put you more in the know about what you need to do to stay safe from them.
Adware – What is It Exactly?
Adware is lurking-in-the-background software that works to display ads on computers and mobile devices. At times it’s referred to as an adware virus or a potentially unwanted program (PUP) and nearly all the time they’re installed without a user okaying any such ad. Adware is quite the troublemaker – it interferes with browsing experiences, displays excessive amounts of unwelcome pop-ups, banners, text link ads, and even sometimes auto-plays video commercials that have absolutely no business being wherever it is you are on the Web
And to what aim you ask? Well, the goal of any adware is income generation for its creator by displaying all those excessive ads. With that basic understanding I place, we can now look at different types of adware. There are two main types, and they’re differentiated based on their ‘penetration’ method:
With Type 1, the adware infiltrates the device by the means of freeware, while Type 2 breaks in via exposure to infected websites. The reason this sketchy behaviour occurs is because the developers want to fund the development and distribution of these free programs by monetize them with adding ‘additional’ programs to the installation files. The type of adware that usually comes hidden in free software usually isn’t the malicious type, but it sure can be annoying.
Not the Same as Spyware
Adware should not be confused with spyware. For starters, Spyware represents a separate program but it still gets downloaded without user knowledge. Spyware tracks user’s browsing actions on the Internet to display targeted advertisements and with this comes collection of different information about users exposed to it.
Infected website adware is often associated with web browser hijacking when users visit an infected website loaded with malicious scripts that promote unauthorized adware installation. Once an infected user browses those sites they are actively shown ads on an ongoing basis. They might think this is just the ‘way it is’ but in reality the ads are being shown as a result of the adware activity that was installed on the device.
Adware Red Flags
It’s good to be in the know about signs that may indicate your web browsing device has been infected with adware. Here’s some of the more common ones:
Below are several signs that indicate adware is installed:
- A web browser’s home page has been changed without user’s permission
- Advertisements appear where they ordinarily would not
- Websites start redirecting you to unanticipated pages
- Web page layouts are displayed in a different way each time users visit the web page
- Web browsers are inexplicably slow and may also malfunction
- Unwanted programs being installed automatically
- New plugins, toolbars, or extensions appear without user consent
- PC resource consumption (CPU usage for example) is unsteady and jumps without any reasonable explanation
The Extent of Risk from Adware
It is true that most adware pieces are more of an annoyance than a legit danger. Annoying activities include text ads, banners, and pop-ups that appear inside the browser window while users dig for information. You may also have random pages or bookmarks open unexpectedly or see strange malfunctions occurring with the device.
But there also more serious and legit threat issues when adware collects the user’s data. This usually involves the developer trying to sell the user’s ad profile along with browsing history and included IP address, performed searches, and visited websites. As you imagine, no good is going to come of that.
Preventing Adware from Infecting Devices
The best and most direct way to prevent adware is to exercise caution when visiting web sites that look suspicious. Be wary of downloading free software and download all programs only from trusted sources. While downloading freeware, the installation wizard may display small pre-checked checkboxes that indicate your agreeing to installation of additional ‘bundled’ software.
Another good general suggestion is to not click any ads, alerts, or notifications when browsing the Internet. The old ‘Your PC is infected with serious viruses, and this n antivirus scan is strongly recommended’ is a classic ploy here. A lot of people fall victim to this cunning deception and then install adware without any idea that’s what they’ve done.
Also ensure that your operating system and other software are regularly updated. Non-updated software is vulnerable to many types of hacker attacks with malware exploiting their security holes.
Certain security settings available on Windows, Apple, and other devices can be enabled to protect users from inadvertently downloading adware. Configuring a web browser to block all pop-ups is a good start. It is also particularly important to carefully check each file that gets download from the Internet and the best (see not free) antiviruses will also provide real-time web protection.
Unless you’re a webmaster wizard or anything else of the sort, the recommendation here is going to be to use special antimalware solutions like Malwarebytes to get rid of Adware that’s taken up residence inside your device. And then be much more wary of these threats in the future and be smarter about what you can do to avoid exposure to them.