Have you ever accidentally tapped on a pop-up ad as you were scrolling through a webpage on your smartphone? What about the constant redirects you get when you attempt to close the numerous ads that seemingly pop-up out of nowhere when you just want to browse a site on your computer in peace? Frustrating, isn’t it?

What you probably didn’t know is that these ads aren’t just annoying, but they could redirect you to malicious sites that could wreak havoc on your computer system. There’s a name for them – adware.

Here’s everything you need to know about these bothersome little irritants.

What Is Adware?

Advertising malware (or “adware” for short) refers to unwanted software that presents pop-up ads or banners on the user interface when the device is connected to the internet or, in some cases, during offline use. Adware not only bombards your device with an endless sea of advertisements but, in most cases, can change your browser’s homepage and install spyware on your device.

While adware cannot truly be classified as a virus and doesn’t pose half the threat that other malicious codes floating around the internet do, make no mistake about it. If it’s on your computer, you need to find a way to get rid of it using the best adware removal tools the market has to offer.

How Does Adware Infect a Computer?

Adware can be harmless for the most part, or it could be dangerous if it leaves your PC vulnerable to malicious threats that could compromise its security. It all boils down to how you got it in the first place.

For instance, free apps like Skype have embedded ads to generate revenue. This goes into covering the cost of development and maintenance of the software since users get to download and use the app for free.

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The ads only show within the app’s platform and only when it is running. These are part of the terms that the user agrees to when they download the app. They can, however, opt-out of seeing ads by purchasing a key or getting the “premium” version of it.

There is a more insidious type of adware that doesn’t ask for permission before it is installed on your device. Instead, it’s done in a roundabout way by embedding the code in email attachments, clicking on ad banners or pop-ups, or even by simply browsing a sketchy website.

In other cases, software developers bundle adware with programs that you download willingly. So, anytime you download a free app, there’s a good chance that it’s ad-sponsored.

What Are the Dangers of Adware?

One of the most common questions people ask is, “Is adware dangerous?” Well, the answer to this is – not by itself. It becomes a problem if it is used as a gateway to introduce other harmful threats to your system.

Here are some of the ways adware can be a cybersecurity threat.

1. Adware Can Redirect You to Dangerous Sites

When numerous pop-up ads and banners appear inside, and in some cases, outside your computer browser, when you’re offline, they are not only distracting and incredibly annoying, but they are also a clicking hazard. More often than not, in a futile attempt to close them, you may end up clicking on the ad, which then redirects you to a malicious site that’s a hotbed for several other malware. Other times, you could be lured into clicking them to cash-in on an irresistible deal that could lead you to sketchy sites as well.

2. Interferes With Your Browsing Experience

One of the dangers of adware is that they sometimes alter your browser’s homepage or start page, causing it to redirect you to potentially unsafe sites. This negatively affects your browsing experience if every time you access the internet, you have to first start by restoring the settings to their default state.

3. May Affect the System’s Performance

One of the most frustrating things about banner ads and pop-ups that keep appearing on the user interface is how they impact the system performance. They cause the computer to slow down drastically, freeze up or frequently crash, which is a pet peeve for many.

4. Can Spy on Browsing Activities

Adware is usually designed for marketing purposes. So, to improve the relevance of the ads you see, adware spies on your internet browsing history, IP address, online search queries, frequently visited websites, etc. and relay this information to the advertiser’s servers.

That way, they can deliver targeted ads that are more likely to interest you. In some cases, data about your browsing habits can be sold to third parties who would use it to drive their agenda.

5. Makes a System or Network Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

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Adware could potentially steal sensitive information like your credit card details or the login credentials of your bank account. They could even go as far as changing or disabling your internet security, leaving your system vulnerable to hacker attacks.

How to Get Rid of Adware

One foolproof way to get rid of an adware infection in your computer is to use a robust adware scanner to find and delete unwanted programs. You also need to get an adware blocker to prevent the installation of programs that have nosy trackers and annoying ads.

Other ways to circumvent adware infections include:

  • Staying away from free software unless it’s from a credible site
  • Always read the End User License Agreement to understand the optional add-ons that come with the program
  • Using the “Custom” or “Advanced Installation” option to reject add-ons that you’re not too sure about
  • Don’t click on pop-up ads or banners that show up while you’re browsing online or offline especially those that claim that there’s a “Virus Detected – Click to Clean”
  • Use the browser settings to block pop-up ads
  • Install an antivirus or anti-spyware program and use it to scan every file you download

Make Yourself a Harder Target

As with all best practices for security, making yourself a harder target for cyber criminals will go a long way to deterring attacks.

One of the most challenging aspects of adware programs is that they cannot be uninstalled without using an adware removal tool. While allowing ads are a necessary evil for software developers to recoup their development and maintenance costs, the adware can open up your system to unprecedented risks. They can be exploited by criminals with sinister motives, so you must be extra vigilant.

Consult with a cyber security expert today to bolster your computer and network security and avoid becoming the next victim of a cybercrime.