The Shylock of malware, adware is always looking to take its pound of flesh.

When most people think about adware they think of a relatively harmless piece of code that’s annoying in its efforts to sell to you and take up space, but little more. The truth is that adware is a nasty piece of malware that can have serious implications for your PCs performance and more insidious infections.

The problem with adware is that it can be snuck onto almost anything. From websites to apps, adware can be woven into all sorts of places that you will unwittingly visit or download. Next thing, you’ve accidently put adware on your machine and your life has become an endless nightmare of popups and advertisements and slowed PC performance. While not all adware attacks are ferocious, there have been some horrible attacks that have left systems down and seriously affected people’s privacy so it’s best to be prepared to protect yourself against them.


The definition

Norton defines adware as “software that displays unwanted advertisements on your computer” and warns that they can serve you “pop-up ads, can change your browser’s homepage, add spyware and bombard your device with advertisements”. You can be infected on both your PC, Mac and your mobile device and it can cause long-term problems if you don’t clean it out of your digital crevices.

Adware comes from all sorts of different places and can be designed to do different things. Some adware is just there to make money off you, popping up relentless ads targeted to reflect your searching history and interests.

They can slow down your system and make it incredibly frustrating to navigate from page to page. Another reason for adware is information gathering. The malware is designed to send the information it steals onto the creators who then sell it on to the highest bidder. In some cases, the adware was designed by a company to actually harvest your information and use it to sell things to you. It’s clever but diabolically so.

Mobile adware will see your device slow down and struggle to do even the most basic apps and commands. PC and Mac adware will do the same but on a larger scale, and it can infect other devices on the same network so you can potentially start an outbreak.

On Fire: In 2017, the security firm Check Point revealed the presence of an adware called Fireball. It had infected 250 million computers by the time it was found and it’s entire job was to turn these computer browsers into zombies so as to generate advertising revenue.

The adware was developed by a company called Rafotech in Beijing and it did more than just bombard with ads, it also pushed people towards fake search engines and used these to collect information. It’s a nasty mix of adware, spyware, malware and botnet that managed to penetrate machines and networks by taking advantage of a security flaw at the time.


The threat

Adware can do more damage that just steal information and slow systems down, as if that wasn’t already enough. It can, for example, redirect you to websites you didn’t want to go to or didn’t expect, it can install new toolbars or plugins, it can change your web browser home page, and it can randomly install unwanted software. It can affect any type of browser too, whether you’re on Chrome or Firefox or Internet Explorer, you are vulnerable to adware and its nasty shenanigans.

If your mobile has slowed to a crawl and demonstrated these symptoms then you most likely picked this little bug up from an app you downloaded. If your machine has followed suit, then you could have picked it up because: you downloaded an infected document or application from the internet, you were infected by someone else’s machine, you were hit by a virus embedded on a site that took advantage of a vulnerability on your machine, you opened an attachment, or you clicked on an infected popup.

The list is endless and, in some cases,, like a drive-by virus on a trusted website, you can’t always protect against the attack, but in other cases like attachments and downloads you can just stop what you’re doing and play it safe online instead.

In Disguise: In 2019, Trend Micro found adware that was pretending to be photography and gaming apps on Google Play. This adware, catchily known as AndroidOS_Hidenad.HRXH, displays adds, sneaks around your device in such clever ways that it’s hard to find, and generally moves itself around your device so it can’t be easily detected. Once its kicked in, it forces you to watch adverts from start to finish before you can close the app and they become increasingly frequent so they can really affect performance and device usage.


The protection

Adware is all the bad words in the dictionary – annoying, frustrating, time consuming and invasive – so here’s how to get rid of it and prevent it from coming back:

  • Check the app’s credibility – before you download an app, read reviews about it and make sure it’s a reliable and well-known app that isn’t putting you at risk. Also invest into mobile device protection solutions like Norton Mobile Security that will help you protect your system from all sorts of virus and infection.
  • Only use a reliable mobile protection solution – mobile devices are increasingly targeted by adware scammers, so much so that they’ve created fake mobile security apps infected with, you guessed it, adware and malware. Always use a reliable and well-know security company like Norton.
  • Don’t download anything unknown – free apps, free tools, unknown products from untrustworthy sources, these are all potential carriers of infected code.
  • Install a reliable antivirus on your machine – consider Norton 360 that protects your machine from multiple threats and that will warn you if something is a risk.
  • Don’t open that attachment – unless it’s genuinely trustworthy. Check the source of the document, scan it for viruses and only then open it.
  • Kill the adware – using a solution such as Norton Power Eraser that’s designed to eliminate adware and other similar infections from your device.