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What is adware? The dark side of advertising

What is adware? The dark side of advertising

Every day, we surf countless websites, download numerous apps, and share vast amounts of information. Many threats lurk behind the scenes, invisible to us, but with very real potential impacts on our lives. One such threat is adware.

At first glance, it might seem like a minor annoyance. After all, we’re accustomed to dealing with ads daily. But adware can slow down our computers, flood our screens with unwanted advertising, and in extreme cases, even compromise our digital privacy and security.

Understanding what adware is, its effects, and how we can shield ourselves is crucial. Being informed about it is an integral part of cybersecurity, paving the way for a safer and more enjoyable digital journey.

What is Adware?

Adware, short for “advertising software,” automatically generates advertisements on our devices without our direct consent. Initially designed as a monetization model for free software, its use has been misappropriated over time, often crossing the line into invasive and unwanted disruption.

In its simplest form, adware displays ads to a user while using an app or browsing online. These ads can take various forms, from pop-ups and banners to full-page redirects. Some software developers include adware in their free products to generate revenue. Users, often unknowingly, download these programs along with adware.

Common examples include free software that shows third-party ads while running, and browser toolbars that not only change our homepage but also display ads or track our online activities.

Not all adware is malicious. Some transparently present it, offering a disabling option. Yet, others install without user consent or are difficult to remove, turning adware from an annoyance into a genuine threat.

How does it affect you?

Adware’s impact can range from mere inconvenience to genuine security threats.

  • Device performance: It can notably slow down our device performance as it consumes system resources to load and display ads. This slow-down can be especially harmful during resource-intensive tasks like gaming or video editing.
  • Unwanted advertising: It can saturate our browsing experience with intrusive, undesired ads. Constant pop-ups, banners, and redirects can hinder our online activities and diminish our online experience.
  • Privacy and security threats: Some adware variants might gather data about our online behavior without our knowledge. While this data may be used for targeted advertising, it could also be sold to third parties, posing significant privacy risks. In extreme situations, adware can even introduce other types of malware to our devices, leading to identity theft, data loss, and other security breaches.

A recent example showcased a popular browser extension, supposedly helping users find online deals. Instead, it was harvesting users’ browsing habits and selling the data to third parties, affecting millions before being detected, underscoring the vast and damaging potential of such threats.

How does it get installed?

To counter adware, understanding its installation methods is essential:

  • Free software or shareware downloads: Adware often comes bundled. Developers use it to monetize, so when we download and install, we might also unintentionally install adware.
  • Installation without user consent: Some adware gets installed without explicit user consent. This might happen when visiting an infected website, opening suspicious email attachments, or clicking on phishing links.
  • Infected websites and phishing links: Visiting an infected site or clicking on a phishing link can trigger an automatic adware download. While these might look legitimate, they’re designed to deceive users.

In essence, various methods exist for adware installation, and cybercriminals constantly devise new ones. Awareness of these tactics and preventive measures are key.

Protecting ourselves from Adware

Thankfully, there are several strategies we can use to protect ourselves from adware.

The first line of defense against adware is to practice safe browsing. This means steering clear of suspicious or unsecured websites, refraining from clicking on questionable links or ads, and avoiding opening emails or attachments from unknown sources.

Good antivirus and antispyware software can shield our devices. These programs detect and get rid of adware, and they can also prevent it from being installed when downloading or setting up software.

Cybercriminals frequently exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software. Keeping our software and operating systems up to date is crucial to ensure that we’re defended against the latest threats.

Stay away from downloading software from untrusted sources, as many adwares are spread via free or shareware software. By doing so, we can lessen the risk of inadvertently installing these malicious programs.

Lastly, one of the best ways to protect oneself is to be well-informed about cybersecurity. Understanding how cybercriminals operate and how we can shield our devices is essential for our safety in the digital realm.

In short, while adware is a genuine threat, there are numerous ways to guard against it. By following these security measures, we can make certain that our devices remain adware-free and that our online experience is both secure and enjoyable.


In essence, adware is a type of software that displays or downloads ads onto our devices, often without our clear permission. Even though it might seem like a minor annoyance, adware can substantially impact our devices’ performance, overwhelm us with unwanted ads, and, in extreme cases, jeopardize our safety and privacy.

Thankfully, multiple strategies exist to protect ourselves from adware. By practicing safe browsing, installing reliable antivirus and antispyware software, keeping our software and systems current, avoiding software downloads from untrusted sources, and educating ourselves about cybersecurity, we can reduce the chances of being affected by adware.