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What is Adware?

Adware is an abbreviation; the complete form of Adware is advertisement software or advertising-supported software. The Adware could be malicious or non-malicious. But the fact is that it automatically generates on the computer screen (or mobile screen) while a user is using a web browser. Most of the Adware targets users to redirect the user to advertisement websites. It is how the developers of Adware collect revenue.

What is Adware

Figure 1. What is Adware

Adware often enters a user's device in one of two ways:

When a user installs a free application or computer program, that is typically associated with installing/downloading an Adware. The fact is that the Adware is installed without the consent of the users. As a result, the Adware is downloaded to the user's systems. If that Adware contains a malicious virus, the entire system might be hacked.

When a user's system does not have a robust security protocol, hackers intentionally insert malware into the system in the form of Adware. As the user is not informed about the Adware installation, s/he ends up downloading malware.

It is not illegal to contain Adware with a free application. And this legal support opens the window for potential harm associated with Adware installation. That is why it is very important to establish a strong security protocol and become well-known to the potential threats of Adware.

How does Adware Work?

The working system of Adware is to be described from two perspectives. They are marketers and users. Initially, a software company/creator of the software integrates Adware with the program if the company wants to spread the Adware. Then, a distributor/marketers buy ad space from the software company. The distributor markets the Adware and influences users to click on the Adware. The ultimate goal of Adware marketing is to generate revenue.

However, when a user installs/downloads the Adware accidentally or without giving any consent, the Adware program is installed on a computer or mobile device. And the revenue generated from users' responses to Adware goes to the pocket of distributors and developers of Adware. There are three sources regarding Adware from which income is generated. They are:

  • PPC (Pay-Per-Click): When a user opens an ad, revenue is generated.
  • PPV (Pay-Per-View):. Revenue is generated by displaying the ad on the user's device.
  • PPI (Pay-Per-Install):. Revenue is generated when the Adware is installed on the user's device.

How does Adware Spread?

Adware mainly spreads through web browsers and software installation. There are the most familiar routes of Adware spreading. Besides these routes, there are many routes that Adware uses to be spread:

  • Bundled software: Adware is bundled with free software or plug-ins. A user cannot download and install that software without giving access to Adware to the device. Most of the time, the Adware spread through this route applies the IT security policy. For example, the option to skip becomes a grey or minimized version, and the user does not have an opportunity to allow Adware installation.
  • Fake pop-up: Adware pops up on the screen in the guise of a real advertisement. For example, a common fake pop-up is a 'hoax pop-up' that claims it detects and removes Adware from the user devices. If a user clicks on that pop-up, s/he ends up installing Adware that often contains a virus.
  • Internet surfing: When a user visits a website that has the potential to exploit the user's system, fake pop-up ads appear on the screen. If the user clicks on the ads to, for example, scan the virus, the Adware is installed on the device.
  • Outdated software: When a user uses outdated software to browse, the chance of Adware appearing on the screen becomes proliferated.
  • File transfer: Adware can spread even without using the internet. If a file containing Adware is shared, Adware accesses the user's device.

Relationship Between Virus and Adware

Adware is a special kind of spyware that pops-up ads on a user's screen. Unlike spyware, adware displays the subject of the user's interest. For instance, an ad might show a product with a very low price.

However, when Adware is installed, the Adware might contain virus/malicious code. Installing that Adware means, malicious code enters into users' systems. Later, the virus exploits the system vulnerabilities of the user and often steals/hacks personal data.

What are Types of Adware?

There are two types of Adware could be found. They are as follows:

  1. Legitimate Adware
  2. Potentially Unwanted Applications.

1. Legitimate Adware

Legitimate Adware is legal, and this type of Adware is built by all kinds of software developers. The principal aim of building Adware is to provide free software to users. The features of legitimate Adware are presented below:

  • Legitimate Adware takes consent from the user. For instance, users are shown if they want to install the free software, and Adware is installed with that. That means the user installs the Adware willingly.
  • If the Adware developer wants to collect personal information or market information of the user, it cannot do it without the user's permission.

2. Potentially Unwanted Applications(PUA):

This type of Adware is also legal, but that depends on the intention of the ad developer. For instance, if the Adware contains a virus/malware that crosses the legal boundary. PUA is classified into three major categories. They are:

  • Legal Deceptive Adware: Adware uses the shady approach to make it difficult to exclude Adware uninstallation.
  • Legal Abusive Adware: Displaying an ad is legal, and there is no limit to ad displaying. Many software developers and cybercriminals take the chance of this legal weakness. They show an excessive user ad at a time; some of these contain viruses. If the user accidentally clicks on that ad, the malware is installed on the user's computer.
  • Illegal Malicious Adware: In this type of Adware, a malware/virus is masked with the Adware. The Adware distributor has a close connection with the malware distributor. Accompanied by the malware distributor, the Adware distributor spreads spyware/malware into the user's device.

What are the Examples of Adware?

The list of Adware examples is lengthy; a few prominent examples from that list are presented below.

  • Fireball: The name of the developer of Fireball is Rafotech. Rafotech is a Chinese company that specializes in digital marketing. In a 2017 study, it is found that Fireball has infected 1/5th of computers across the world. Fireball comes with the software bundle. When a user installs software developed by Rafotech, the Fireball appears as with software installation. Fireball takes over the user's browser and creates a fake search engine called Trotux. Using the fake search engine, Fireball then inserts intrusive ads to a user's web page. Also, Fireball is capable of hindering the user from web browser modification.

  • Appearch: Appearch is quite identical to Fireball. Like Fireball, Appearch comes with free bundled software. Even, the working patterns of Appearch are quite identical to Fireball. For instance, Appearch hijacks the web browser and floods the browser with unlimited ads. However, there are slight differences between Appearch and Fireball. Unlike Fireball, Appearch redirects the user to Appearch.info. Moreover, Appearch makes surfing impossible. When the user tries to get into websites, Appearch blocks the text with ads. To get access, Appearch asks the user to allow subscribing. Once the user subscribes, Appearch finally takes control of browser settings.

  • DeskAd: Deceptive ad is the key factor of DeskAd that assists Adware in taking control of the browser. In the guise of a deceptive ad (that seems to show a fascinating subject), DeskAd Adware redirects users' traffic to unwanted websites. Typically, those unwanted websites are full of pop-up ads. Also, DeskAd works through email phishing. DeskAd is distributed through email attachment and if the user clicks on that attachment, DeskAd takes control of the computer registry and leads to a memory crash.

  • Virtumonde: Typically, virtumonde works for a fake spyware program. It initially floods the user's device with numerous pop-up advertisements. Then, the advertisements interfere with online browsing and record the user's keystrokes. A remote hacker monitors the user's activity and analyses record to reveal the user's identity.

  • DollarRevenue: In the history of Adware, DollarRevenue is considered as one of the successful Adware in terms of the number of infected computers. To track the user's activity regarding internet searches, this Adware installed a browser toolbar. Also, the toolbar is used to show numerous pop-up ads.

Which Devices are Vulnerable to Adware?

Generally, Adware attacks vulnerable devices that do have low-security protocols. Computer and mobile, both can be attacked by Adware. Hence, determining the devices most vulnerable to Adware is quite difficult because there is legal Adware as well. Despite this fact, there are some ways to determine vulnerability to Adware.

  • Mobile Device Vulnerabilities: If a user uses a mobile device having operating system vulnerabilities, the device could be bombarded with Adware. Not updating the system regularly is the main cause of operating system vulnerabilities. If a user accesses unsecured websites or uses an unsecured internet connection, the device becomes vulnerable to Adware. If the mobile device's browser is outdated, the browser could be a target of Adware and Malware infection. If a mobile device does not run the suspicious mail/message blocking system, the device vulnerabilities might proliferate. In this case, hackers use Adware to steal personal data such as credit card information, social sites' information, etc.

  • Computer Device Vulnerabilities: If a computer device is not secured with anti-virus, Adware can attack the device anytime. It is very important to scan an external storage drive to transfer data. If a computer does not enable the auto-scan features, Adware integrated with software/application could get access to the computer during data transfer. The computer becomes vulnerable to Adware like a mobile device if the browser is not updated. In the case of an outdated browser, hackers could find vulnerabilities to exploit the chance.

note

Although ad blockers cannot completely prevent Adware if AdBlock is not installed in the computer device, device vulnerability to Adware increases.

How to Tell If You Have an Adware Infection?

Fortunately, many signs can tell a user about the Adware Infection. In order to be aware of Adware Infection and to take proper steps to remove Adware, it is very important to get familiar with these signs:

  • Slow Computer: If a user notices that the task accomplishment process (program launching, loading documents, running a program) takes more time than usual, Adware may infect the user's device. As Adware takes some memory spaces of the computer, the processor speed becomes slowed down. As a result, users experience slow task processing due to the Adware infection.
  • Ads Bombarding: If a user notices numerous pop-up ads (abnormal to the normal quantity of advertisement), the user must be sure of an Adware infection. Besides noticing numerous ads, the user notices that s/he cannot close any ads; or the user is redirected to another page/websites/ads.
  • Changed Homepage: Many Adware changes the design of the browser's homepage. If a user notices a changed homepage, his/her device is more likely infected with Adware.
  • Crashing: Another sign of Adware infection is crashing. Due to an Adware infection, a program or the device might crash several times.
  • Slow Internet Connection: The Internet connection might be slowed down due to an Adware infection. As Adware compels the browser to download numerous pop-up ads, most of the data is spent to do that. As a result, users experience slow internet connections.
  • Redirection: If a user experiences automatic redirection to websites s/he does not actually want to access, he can be sure of an Adware infection. The prime objective of Adware is to show unlimited ads, and that is achieved through redirecting the user traffic to unwanted websites.

The above-mentioned sign of Adware infection is for computer users. In the case of mobile, the signs are quite similar, with an additional sign that mobile battery drains very quickly due to an Adware infection.

What are the Ways to Prevent Adware?

If a device is attacked with the virus through unwanted Adware installation, it becomes hazardous to remove the virus. That is why it is better to take precautions to prevent Adware. There are many ways a user can follow to avoid Adware, the following ways are prominent among those.

  • Antivirus: Antivirus is a special kind of software that is designed to prevent malware (and adware as well) through scanning, detecting, and deleting. If a user installs an Antivirus software and regularly updates it, s/he can get a handful of benefits. Such as: Antivirus establishes a good security protocol for users' devices and internet systems. When Adware is going to be installed, the security protocol will block that. Antivirus (regularly updated) is a great tool to scan a computer regularly. If any Adware is found, the Antivirus will remove or quarantine that.

  • Prior Reading Habit: When a user wants to install software, it is wise to read all the conditions associated with that software installation. Reading before installing software is a good practice indeed because it allows a user to be informed of permission s/he gives to the software developer. Also, reading habit helps a user to get informed of additional conditions of installations. As a result, the user can block Adware before it accesses the device with software installation.

  • Reliable Source: Some software or app developers are reliable to most users because of their good service and well security protocol. Examples of such developers are Google Play, Apple App, Microsoft Store, etc. If a user downloads apps or software from these sources, Adware infection's chance becomes minimal. On the other hand, if a user downloads from an unreliable source such as peer-to-peer file sharing, his/her device is more likely to be infected with Adware.

  • Freeware Avoidance: One of the great sources of Adware is 'Freeware'. If a user downloads from 'Freeware' or clicks on it, Adware or Malware will attack the device. Even the free, direct copies of commercial apps are also detrimental to devise security.

  • Reputable Ad Blocker: Most of the time, a user's device is infected with Adware by a sudden unwanted click. Especially, when a web page displays numerous ads, the likelihood of accidental click increases. The solution to this problem is to use a reputable Ad Blocker. A reputable AdBlocker can prevent advertisement display on the browser.

  • Purchasing Device From a Reliable Source: Commonly, Adware is pre-installed with hardware or software. If a user purchases that device, the device could be infected with Adware. That is why it is very important to purchase the device from reliable sources such as reputable shops.

Can a Firewall Prevent Adware?

Yes, the firewall can prevent Adware.

The firewall is a vital part of a computer's security. The firewall's main activities are following:

  • It protects unauthorized access and private networks to the user's device.
  • The firewall monitors incoming and outgoing traffic. As a result, the firewall can block suspicious traffic.

So, from the above two activities, it is certain that a firewall can block suspicious traffic, so the Adware. That is why it is very important to enable a firewall in every device.

tip

Zenarmor provides you effective protection against adware. You can easily install and configure Zenarmor next generation firewall software on your FreeBSD-based or Linux-based open source firewall, such as OPNsense, pfSense software, Ubuntu, Centos, etc. By defining application control and web content filtering rules, you can keep your clients safe behind the Zenarmor even free.

How to Remove Adware?

The main difference between Adware and Spyware is that Adware monitors users' interests but Spyware monitors personal information. Another significant difference is that Adware could be removed by Antivirus, which is not possible for spyware. Adware removal methods for different platforms are explained below.

IOS Adware Removal

You may follow the next steps given below to remove adware from an IOS device.

  1. Software needs to be updated first.
  2. The iPhone/iPad needs to be restarted.
  3. The third step is to clear browsing history and data.
  4. After clearing history, the user must remove unfamiliar apps.

Android Adware Removal

To remove adware from an Android device you may follow the next steps given below:

  1. Reboot the Android in Safe Mode. It could be easily executed by pressing and holding the power button. If the process is completed successfully, the Safe Mode icon will appear at the bottom of the device.
  1. Remove recently installed applications one by one. After removing an application, the Android must be restarted with normal mode to check whether the problem is fixed or not.
  1. After the malicious app is caught, the user can reinstall the safe apps.

Also, you can use Malwarefox to remove Adware from your Android.

Computer Adware Removal

Adware could be removed from a computer or a Mac by Antivirus. Antivirus scans and deletes the Adware (if any). In the case of the manual removal in a Windows PC, the following steps need to be followed.

  1. Close all browsers and software.
  2. Open the Windows Task Manager.
  3. Click on Processes.
  4. Right-click on the mouse and then click on End Task.
  5. Open the Windows Control Panel.
  6. Identify suspicious programs and uninstalling.

To remove Adware from Mac, the following steps need to be followed,

  1. The open Activity Monitor from LaunchPad. Click on Force Quit to remove suspicious apps. Dragg the app into the trash.
  2. Restart the device.

Does Adware Break the Law?

Whether an Adware breaks the law or not depends on the purpose of Adware. For instance, integrating Adware with free software is not illegal. Also, it is not illegal to show pop-up ads. Nevertheless, Adware could be illegal if it intentionally contains spyware or malware to cause damage to user devices, to collect personal data, and so on.

What are Other Threats Similar to Adware?

Although Adware does not break the law all time, it is a potential threat to device security. Also, similar threats to Adware exist that work quite identically to Adware. Examples of such threats are Spyware and Malware.

  • Spyware: Spyware is a hidden-kind software that could be installed on a user's device without the user's permission. After being installed, spyware secretly collects users' information and sends it to a third party. Compared to Adware, Spyware is more detrimental. However, spyware can slow network, device performance and prevent authentic software as Adware can.
  • Malware: Malware is referred to as a designed software that aims to disrupt users' computers and networks. Malware is so powerful that an attacker can explore or steal personal information and even extend a cyberattack as his/her wish. Generally, malware could infect a device or network through two ways; code and file. Also, the number of variants of malware is numerous. Common variants of malware include Viruses, Worms, Spyware, Trojan horses, Logic Bombs, etc. Like Adware, Malware is not distributed through pop-up ads. Rather, it is distributed through software installation or emails. The most ferocious matter regarding malware is that it can replicate, making it more powerful to destroy a user device or network.