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What is Adware?

By Reason Cybersecurity

on Thu May 28 2015

Adware is any software that displays ads to generate revenue for the program’s creator. Adware teeters on the edge of the definition of malware. In some respects, it’s a legitimate answer for developers looking to make some money off of their hard work while allowing the end-user to get the service for (almost) free. On the other hand, the adware can be misused with alarming ease to track and record surfing preferences and history, in the name of generating targeted ads. This is where adware begins to cross the line into malware territory.

A quick history lesson in Adware
Internet advertising using adware as a means to create revenue was born in 1994 when Netscape 1.0 was released. Webmasters realized that people would be willing to pay to have their services or products advertised on websites and thus the idea of a not-for-profit internet was forgotten faster than you can say “Ask Jeeves”. Online ads were everywhere and the age of internet advertising began.

Okay, so how is Adware harmful?
The idea behind adware was well-intentioned at its inception and was fairly non-invasive. The problem was that it was simply an extension of the TV commercial industry’s “spray and pray” ideology. This is when an advertiser places ads pretty much randomly in hopes that someone out there will hear and like their message. In general, this method didn’t work – ads went ignored and advertisers’ money went wasted. Developers realized that by including thin layers of code in their programs, they would be able to track users’ surfing habits and preferences. When someone downloads free software with the code embedded into it, their information is given over to advertisers to create targeted campaigns based on that user’s previous preferences.
This is how developers enter that murky territory between perfectly innocent and potentially harmful practices. Data and surfing habits are personal information. No one has the right to collect, let alone abuse that information – unless they were given permission by the user, that is. Developers rightly assume that consumers don’t want their information tracked so the less morally inclined of the bunch create trickily-worded installers that come pre-“opted-in” to accept potentially damaging software. To download your desired free software without the potentially harmful aspects requires a careful reading of the text of the installer, which most people don’t take the time to do.

How can I keep Adware from taking over my computer?
The reality that adware can so easily be misused, coupled with the fact that it cripples your computer’s speed, uses up memory and is simply annoying is what gets adware labeled as potential malware. Here are a few tips to avoid adware:

Read installers as they run: Any time you download software, read installers as they run and be aware of what you are “opting in” to. Often times free software downloads will come bundled with things you are unaware of like browser toolbar hijackers such as Homepage-web or Babylon Search. These browsers might even have a similar look and interface to your previous and desired browser so you may not notice at first that it’s been changed. But these rogue browsers deliver lots of pop-ups and banner ads and redirect you to sites you have no intention of visiting.
Run a powerful malware blocker: Get set up with a malware blocker like RCS, which performs regular scans to check for any potential infiltrators. It also keeps your checkboxes clear by default, thanks to Unchecky, which helps you circumvent the issue of tricky installers as mentioned above as an important added benefit.
Make sure your pop up blocker is enabled: Pop-ups are oftentimes the result of ad-supported extensions in browsers and a bombardment of them is a pretty good indicator that again, you downloaded something you didn’t intend to. Modern browsers have built-in pop-up blockers but you should check every now and then that the settings are set to a level you’re comfortable with. The pop-up blocker in and of itself won’t protect your pc from adware but if it’s set to the proper levels and you are running a strong malware blocker and you’ve got Unchecky to keep your boxes clear in the first place, you should be able to surf safely and uninterrupted.
Have you been targeted by adware? Tell us about your experience!