How to avoid and remove adware viruses, attacks & threats

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What does “adware” mean?

The term “adware”, short for advertisement-supported software, refers to unwanted online ads that automatically pop up on your devices. These ads often affect your online experience and can vary from annoying to downright dangerous. Many users refer to adware as “adware viruses”; however, viruses differ from adware, and we will look at this later.

Adware allows ads to pop up or download without your permission and is designed to generate income for adware developers and advertisers. This software typically shows up when you download new apps, software or computer programs, and it may be challenging to identify where adware originates from.

Unfortunately, adware is usually downloaded without your knowledge, and unless removed, it may be used to steal your data and personal information. This can allow developers to show you personalised adverts that may link to malicious sites or pages that contain computer viruses. You can find more information on our malware page.

Adware examples

Adware can show up online through banners, pop-ups, adverts and even autoplay video ads, which can be frustrating. As new types of adware threats appear over time, it is crucial to stay vigilant. Some adware examples from past attacks include:

  • Gator: Originating in 2002, this adware overwrote all online ads to show only Gator ads. It also compromised many users’ personal data.
  • Zango: From 2006, Zango software was installed without the user’s consent, displaying pop up ads on different devices.
  • Fireball: Starting around 2017, Fireball adware replaced the user’s existing search engine with a fake one, prevented users from changing browser settings and bombarded users with ads.

Is adware malware?

Yes, adware is a type of malware that forces users to view unwanted adverts. So what is malware? Well, malware is a shortened term that refers to malicious software. This type of software is created to cause damage to your device or network and is typically used to exploit users through stolen data or for financial gain.

Malware takes various forms and can be used in many ways, for example, through apps, software downloads, email attachments and more. The most common types of malware include viruses, ransomware and spyware, but other types can significantly impact your devices or networks.

Frustratingly, malware can be both insidious and difficult to detect. In fact, security expert Graham Clulely wrote for We Live Security, “Every day, there are 100,000 new variants of malware detected around the world, " illustrating just how active malware developers are.

Is adware a virus?

No, viruses and adware are both types of malware, and while both can secretly infect your devices, compromise your secure data, and affect how your devices run, they work differently. 

Viruses work by self-replicating, allowing them to spread throughout your devices and data, corrupting everything they encounter. Conversely, Adware allows advertisers to track online activity and show users unwanted ads in the hope of drawing in customers.

For more guidance on removing a virus, view our antivirus protection page.

Types of adware

It’s no secret that many adware can frustrate users, but not all are malicious. The two types of adware are:

Legitimate adware

Where the user consents to viewing adverts, legitimate adware typically originates from downloading or using free software. The key point is that the user consents to marketing information such as personalised ads and third-party software.

Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs)

Unlike legitimate adware, PUAs don't allow users to consent to download and install software or programs. There are three types of PUAs:

  • Legal deceptive adware PUAs work by making it difficult for users to opt out of downloading software. 
  • Legal abusive adware PUAs work by showing users an excessive amount of adverts. 
  • Illegal malicious adware PUAs work by distributing malware such as viruses and spyware to devices.

What is an adware attack?

Attacks occur when adware infects a device or network. The user is then bombarded with ads that are unwanted and a nuisance. These attacks can be an invasion of your privacy and may compromise your personal data. During an attack, your online activity may be monitored, allowing adware developers to show personalised ads.

Adware attacks can interfere with the running of your device and may lead to viruses or spyware being installed on your computer or mobile device. In addition, your online activity may be redirected, allowing adverts to pop up unprompted.

How to know if you have adware

It's not always easy to detect adware threats, but you must always look for adware so your machines and networks aren't affected. The best way to recognise adware is by looking for pop-up ads or applications you didn’t consent to.

You can also spot adware if:

  • The websites you use aren't loading properly
  • Your device isn’t running correctly
  • The software you don’t recognise is downloading
  • Changes are being made to your browser without your permission
  • Links online lead to incorrect websites
  • Or, new extensions or plugins appear on your browser

Can I trust anti-adware software?

Anti-adware software can help to eliminate adware, restore your privacy and improve your online experience. However, frustratingly, most anti-adware software is, in fact, adware! There are two types of fake software, legitimate software that has been altered or software created by an unknown company that’s fake.

A common scam involves using adware to create a pop-up that claims a user's device is infected. There will then be a link to download fake anti-adware software that only worsens the issue.

Thankfully, there are ways to ensure you don't fall victim to fake anti-adware scams. You can stay safe by using anti-adware software from a company you know and trust, always visiting an official site before downloading any software, and never clicking any pop-ups on your browser.

How do I remove adware?

Once you have identified adware, removing the software from your devices is important as soon as possible. You can start by checking your bookmarks and removing any programs you didn't install. Next, check for programs you don't recognise and delete them. It's also worth looking at your browser settings and resetting them if adware has made any changes. To help stay on top of the problem, we recommend regularly deleting cookies and your browser cache.

The best way to remove adware is to use legitimate anti adware software that you trust that includes an adware removal tool. Using ESET products, like our Smart Security Premium software, is an easy, comprehensive way of eliminating unwanted adware from your devices and networks. 

How to protect your devices from adware

While regularly checking for adware is vital, there are ways of protecting your devices from unwanted software. Below are our key tips for preventing adware:

  • Ensure you only give permission to download apps, extensions and programs you trust
  • Be wary of free software downloads; only use companies you know
  • Block pop-up ads on your browser
  • Download and install legitimate anti-adware software

If you’re looking for incredible online protection against adware and other types of malware, we have various products that are perfect for every user. You can choose ESET Smart Security Premium, ESET Internet Security or to protect Windows, macOS and Android devices.

ESET products can offer complete protection for sensitive data whilst securing you against never before seen threats. We enable secure online transactions, can protect your kids online, and even protect your network and webcam. We have software suitable for use on computers, smart devices and mobile devices that can block adware before it has a chance to make an impact.