Adware and Pop-up Ads

Adware is a form of spyware and is often downloaded in conjunction with spyware. Adware watches user behavior and then targets the user with specific advertisements. Typically these ads show up without the consent of the user, and often take the form of pop-ups.

Adware is software that displays targeted ads when downloaded. It often comes bundled with downloadable games, movies, music files, or software programs, but it usually isn’t listed as part of the download. Once on your system, the app tracks your online behavior and serves up ads based on that behavior. The ads may appear as shopping assistants, targeted ads, pop-up or pop-under windows, highlighted keywords, search toolbars, floating ads, or other annoying extras.11


Adware and spyware can be installed on your system anytime you’re asked to give your permission to install software. Again, if you’re not sure, don’t give software permission to run on your system.

Increasingly, adware is also showing up on Facebook and other social media sites. But again, the common thread is that you still have to give your permission for software to install.

Adware distributors also exploit Facebook’s “Like” function to spread their adware programs virally. Recently, a status update appeared on Facebook stating “Poor girl commits suicide after dad posted this on her wall.” When you click the link to read the page, an “age verification tool” pops up, and you have to download a gaming program (actually masked adware) to get to the story—which is unrelated to Facebook. If you fall for this scheme, friends will see that you “liked” the story.12

How do I know if I’m dealing with adware and not just regular ads?

Adware shouldn’t be confused with legitimate banner ads and pop-up ads. It can be hard to tell the difference, but if ads pop up randomly, persistently (for example, when the browser isn’t even open), or when you’re not connected to the Internet, then you are probably dealing with adware.

Some clues that adware may be present on your computer include a barrage of pop-up ads, a hijacked browser (a browser that takes you to sites other than those you type into the address box) and a sudden or repeated change in your computer’s Internet home page—or even new and unexpected toolbars magically appearing. Your computer also may feel sluggish or slow down when attempting to open or close programs. Since adware may be bundled with spyware, it could pose a security threat to your computer.13

How can I protect my computer against adware?

As a general rule, keep pop-ups blocked in your browser unless you are specifically required to by a legitimate website, and then only turn on pop-ups for that site. Programs like AdBlock can also eliminate advertisements of all types (not just pop-ups).

From a software perspective, all major spyware solutions also remove adware. This is increasingly true of all major anti-virus programs.

11 Leah Yamshon, “Second Wave of Adware Pounds Web Surfers,” PC World (Dec. 2010): 30.
12 Ibid.
13 Douglas Schweitzer, “Sleuthing: Detect and Remove Adware,” Certification Magazine (Aug. 2005): 30.

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