What is Adware?
Malicious software or malware can come in various forms and have many different purposes. While some types of malware — like ransomware — are more famous than others, there are many different types of malware out there.
Adware is malware designed to serve malicious advertisements to users. This type of malware can be used for a few different purposes.
How Adware Works
Like most types of malware, adware needs to be running on a computer to perform its task. Adware might be bundled with other software, downloaded from a website, or distributed in other ways.
Once installed on a computer, the malware will begin serving unwanted and potentially malicious advertisements in the user’s web browser. This could be in the form of banner ads within existing sites or by opening up pop-up windows that display advertising content on top of the current browsing window.
What is Adware For?
On the surface, adware might seem like a relatively benign type of malware. Since its primary purpose is to serve advertisements, it may appear to be more of an annoyance than a real threat. However, adware can be used for a few different malicious purposes.
Advertisements are designed to direct a user to a particular site. In the case of legitimate advertising, this will be a website that allows the user to browse and purchase the merchant’s goods or services.
Adware can be used to direct users to malicious, phishing sites. These sites may be designed to trick a user into making a purchase or may have more nefarious purposes. For example, the website could trick the user into entering payment card information that the cybercriminal can use to perform financial fraud.
Adware can also be used as the first stage in a multi-stage cyberattack. If a user clicks on a malicious ad, they may download malware to their computer or be directed to a site that will serve it.
This allows the adware operator to deploy additional malware on the user’s computer after gaining initial access via the adware. This malware can steal data, encrypt files, or perform other malicious actions.
Most cybercriminals are in the business to make money. Adware and ad fraud provide a perfect opportunity to monetize access to users’ computers.
Merchants pay advertising platforms to serve their ad content to potential buyers. The more views that an ad gets, the higher the chance of a sale and the higher the payment to the advertising platform. With adware, cybercriminals can force users to view ads, earning them revenue from advertisers.
Protecting Against Adware
Adware is just another type of malware. Some best practices for protecting against adware include:
- Use an Antivirus: An antivirus or other endpoint security solution should be able to identify adware and block it from being installed or run on a computer.
- Check Bundling Terms: Some software will bundle potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) like adware with legitimate software. Double-check everything that an installer says it is putting on your system before approving it and clicking Install.
- Don’t Click Ads: In most cases, simply having an ad pop up on your computer doesn’t cause any harm; the danger comes when the ad is clicked. Don’t click on ads and close them by closing the window where they appear rather than clicking on any X’s that appear within the ad itself.
- Install Updates Promptly: The main threat of viewing ads is that they might be able to exploit vulnerabilities in your web browser. Install software updates as soon as they are offered to close these potential attack vectors.
Adware is malware that seems benign on the surface but can be used for malicious purposes. Always be careful when dealing with potentially suspicious software or websites.