Definition of the Day: Adware

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What is AdWare

The term adware is used to describe programs that personalize and display advertisements on your computer via your web browser an through free apps or software programs. In addition, much adware today also does things like collect usage data for online marketing purposes (via web beacons) and redirect your search requests to advertising-heavy websites.

Adware exists in a gray zone of safety. There are legitimate forms of adware that only work if the user has opted in to the program’s tracking and serving features. On the other hand, there is a great deal of superficially legitimate adware on the web that is actually being used for nefarious purposes. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you’ll pardon the expression. The key difference lies in transparency and disclosure. If a program is collecting data without your consent it is malware. If the program is collecting information with your consent and – important – you know the types of information being collected that would make it adware.

Adware generally ends up on your machine through one of two major routes: through freeware/shareware OR through infected websites. Many freeware and shareware programs include adware that is automatically installed on your machine if you’re using the freeware program. It’s annoying but legitimate. That’s how the creator of that freeware is making money. Infected websites are another story and never legitimate. In this channel, the adware is injected into your machine by exploiting a known weakness in your web browser. This is called browser hijacking.

AdWare Prevention

Most people find that adware is just ‘annoying’ or a ‘price to pay for something free’. However depending on the severity, it can actually truly be an online threat and some security experts even rate it as seriously as a computer virus.

There are many great programs that have been developed to remove adware such as Malwarebytes, Lavasoft Ad-Aware, Spybot – Search & Destroy. Most commercial antivirus software programs have an adware and spyware solution, however it is also sometimes sold as an add-on module.

Unfortunately, there is now a new type of adware that actually disables antivirus and anti-malware software solutions. If infected by a strong adware code, the code can actually be stored deep within the computer which involves extensive modifications to remove it.

At present, the best solution is to use the adware removal programs mentioned above. Ad blocking browser extensions are also helpful in this case. However if you intend to browse through a website and want to avoid adware which comes from infected websites that you may be visiting or even through advertising networks (called malvertising), you can use BankVault to protect your computer.