The biggest issue with Adware is that there’s a lot more to it than most people think. If you’re running any kind of business, it’s probably not news to you that data security is crucial to your operations. Chances are, you’re even familiar with Malware – malicious software specifically created to disable or damage the computers or systems it infects without the owner’s knowledge – and do everything you can to safeguard against it.

But not everyone knows about Adware, and if they do, they think it’s pretty innocuous. Annoying yes, but not dangerous. We’re here to tell you a harsh reality; Adware can do a lot more damage than simply causing you mild irritation when it pops up on a site you’re trying to use. In fact, the ads are likely not related to the website you’re visiting in the way that legitimate adverts would be at all.

Get the facts on what Adware is and what you need to do about it here.

Fact One: Adware Wasn’t Always Bad

Adware (derived from the words “advertising supported software”, which is exactly what it is), appears as pop-up advertisements on websites in your browser or on apps that you download. Originally, it was just another form of marketing used by businesses – 1995, when it first appeared, was a simpler time.

Reputable organizations used Adware online in much the same way that they used commercials on television and radio or print ads in magazines and newspapers. They would pay Adware vendors to spread their advertising material online. So far, legitimate. But it wasn’t long before this software type took an unsavory turn, burrowing into operating systems and then staying there.

The vendors didn’t check the trusted companies’ affiliates, which were unlawful and seemed to mushroom and were soon spreading through the Internet piggybacking on the original adverts. The legally operated organizations distanced themselves from the underhanded opportunists as quickly as they could, withdrawing from Adware vendors’ services and issuing denials of responsibility for any affiliate activity.

Fact Two: Adware Comes in Many Forms

That brief history of Adware brings us to the present, when Adware can look a lot like legitimate ads which makes it all the more dangerous. Pop-up windows, banners that compare products, and redirects to inflate sites’ search rankings are all possible with Adware. You may have heard of IP Ninja, a particularly vile Adware with various components that work in different ways and collectively perform all this type of software’s functions.

Usually, IP Ninja and other Adware are on free gaming, torrent or movie-streaming sites or bundled on an app that can be installed for no charge. The vendors pay the developers to display the messages or bundle them into downloads, who accept the money so they can keep supplying the product for free – until, of course, you end up paying the price.

And while Mac users may once have believed they were impervious to advertising supported software, this idea was disapproved back in 2012. The first Mac Adware was seen that year, and since then the number of incidences has continued to rise. The increase may be slow, but it’s also worryingly steady.

You can usually tell that your device has been infected by the ads that appear where they shouldn’t be, the changes to your browser homepage that were made without your permission, unusually slow webpage loading times, new tools or plugins in your browser, browser crashes or pages that usually work properly suddenly not displaying as they normally do.

Mac users might also notice their machines suddenly installing unwanted software applications by themselves. And of course, the content of the advertisements is a huge giveaway. Unless you regularly search for miracle weight loss pills, unlicensed software offers, IQ tests or censored adult-only images, these are probably all signs of Adware on your tablet, smartphone or desktop.

Fact Three: Adware Can Cause All Kinds of Damage

Now that we’ve firmly established what Adware is and how annoying it can be, let’s look at how far the problem really goes. This type of software is formally classified as Malware – and there are many good reasons why.

Firstly, when you click on the ads you’ll be taken to unsecure sites that can cause their own damage to your system. Often, once the software has contaminated your system it can rearrange your homepage or other pages so that you are simply taken to unexpected places when you select various links. Overall, it can slow processes down substantially, which is always frustrating for busy small business owners, and it can use up your data.

But the biggest risk that Adware poses is that it can function in the background of your other operations, trawling your browser history, spending habits and private information. This can be sold to marketers who are looking for specific target demographics or to criminals. Hackers have also successfully cracked advertising software codes in the past, giving them free access to the infected machine and all the data on it.

Fact Four: There’s a Lot You Can Do to Handle This Issue

Hopefully, you’re now convinced that Adware is bad, and that you need to do everything you can to prevent your system from being exposed to it. Luckily, even though it is a type of Malware, it’s a lot easier to control and get rid of than most others are.

Install trusted anti-malware or anti-spyware software to your mobile or desktop device and let it scan your system to detect and then delete any Adware that is present now, or that appears later. Strong antivirus software is also important, whether you’re using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or not. As valuable as VPNs are for their encryption of private and sensitive data, they provide no protection against any kind of malicious programs or viruses. Make sure you are protected on every level, in every way.

You should also backup all files regularly, so that if the system needs to be reset or any nefarious programs make their way in, you have copies of everything you need, and update your device regularly. Older versions of programs might have flaws that can be exploited by advertising and other malicious software.

Finally, be vigilant and careful – always check the license of an application before you download it, and don’t click on strange links. If you’re really after a weight loss miracle pill, search for one yourself!

Melanie Robles is an experienced writer on info-sec, software and business development. She mostly writes for VPN Overview, on privacy and cyber security topics.

Adware stock photo by igorstevanovic/Shutterstock