Adware 101: Definition, Types, And Infection

by | September 4, 2021 | Cybersecurity

Have you ever gotten frustrated with all those annoying invasive ads, such as ridiculously large banners, distracting you from an interesting read or an important purchase? Yeah, we did too. This is why this article will walk you through the essential aspects regarding adware – the official name of these bothersome pop-ups.

What Is Adware?

Adware, or advertisement-supported software, automatically pushes unwanted invasive ads onto your device. It displays them on your screen, typically within a web browser, and generates revenues for its developers.

It targets computers most of the time, but mobile devices aren’t getting away that easily either. In addition, some types of adware use manipulative strategies and leave the door open for their partners in crime, malware.

Adware displays aggressive ads on your screen.

How Can You Get It?

It infects your device through one of the following ways:

  • If you install an app or a computer program without paying enough attention to additional software that comes with it, that contains adware. This will allow the creator of the app or program to make money from ads displayed on your screen, but not necessarily with your consent.
  • If there’s a vulnerability in your software or OS that hackers can take advantage of to sneak malware in.

Usually, adware comes hidden in free software from the Internet and it secretly installs itself onto your device. Now, this may be utterly annoying, but not illegal, unless a third-party program adds malicious ad software onto your device without your consent.

The devil really is in the details. This is why it’s never a good idea to blindly click ‘Next’ when installing a program, and you should always pay close attention to every box you check.

Which Are The Most Common Types?

It is important to differentiate harmless from harmful adware. Most representative examples include:

Legitimate adware

This type of advertisement-supported software allows you to give your express consent to ads and software promos so that the developers can offer their products for free. Additionally, you can consent to allow it to gather marketing information.

It is created by all types of developers, including reputable ones. Therefore, it is a legitimate and valid way to offer customers a free product.

Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs)

This is the point where legal boundaries become blurred. This category includes any program that installed itself onto your device without your knowledge and/or consent. Thus, PUA may fall into a gray zone, where the winner of the tug of war between legal and illegal depends on the goal of the software and of those who distribute it:

  • Legal deceptive PUA – usually, it makes it tricky for you to opt-out of installing harmless third-party software. It surely sounds illegal-ish, but it’s not. Legitimate adware sometimes uses this strategy.
  • Legal abusive PUA – is intended to bombard you relentlessly with ads. Without any malware invloved, this is also legal. It usually displays pornography or fitness pills ads.
  • Illegal malicious PUA – this type profits from malicious third parties who want to spread malicious software, such as spyware, viruses, or any other form of malware.

How Does It Work?

The ultimate goal of adware is financial gain, so it will do pretty much anything to make you click on an ad that it displays to you, by accident or otherwise.

Its creators and vendors make money from third parties via either:

  1. Pay-per-click (PPC) — they get paid each time you open an ad.
  2. Pay-per-view (PPV) — they get paid each time an ad is shown to you.
  3. Pay-per-install (PPI) — they get paid each time bundled software is installed on a device.

Some types of adware can even track your search history to display more customized ads. This means it will send your location and browser history back to its developer, who can earn additional income by selling that sensitive information.

In the best-case scenario, adware is just a nuisance. However, it can deliver very damaging malware to your device, which can be extremely costly to you as an individual or your company.

Keep your company safe in the vast world of the Internet by educating your employees on online dangers and the best practices to prevent them.

Choose ATTACK Simulator’s Security Awareness Training program today to ensure a safe tomorrow for your business.


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by Diana Panduru

Content writer for Attack Simulator. Passionate about all things writing and cybersecurity, and obsessed with driving. I sometimes indulge in pencil drawing, poetry, and cooking for fun.

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