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What is adware?

The term adware refers to any software that allows a program or service to be used in exchange for displaying advertisements during its use. Adware creators earn profit by automatically generating online advertisements in the user interface of the software or in popups loaded by the software and displayed during the installation process or when opening it.

In some cases, the revenue is earned through 'pay-per-click' campaigns, in which the adware owner is paid if the user clicks the ad. The term adware is also used to refer to a type of malware that displays invasive, unwanted advertisements.

Adware types

Some application software is offered in both an advertising-supported mode and a paid, advertisement-free mode. The latter is usually available by an online purchase of a license or registration code for the software that unlocks the mode, or the purchase and download of a separate version of the software. In free, advertising-supported versions, the advertisements are seen by the developer as a way to recover development costs, eliminating the cost for the user.

Support by advertising is a popular business model of software as a service (SaaS) products, with examples such as Gmail or Facebook.

There is no consensus as to whether the aforementioned examples can be considered adware or whether the term should apply only to the software that is downloaded or installed on a computer without the user's knowledge and consent. This confusion is partly due to the different national regulations governing what consumers need to be told about the software installed on their computers for consent to be adequate.

For example, some vendors only disclose the inclusion of additional software bundled with primary software in the Terms and Conditions of Use (a lengthy document that few users bother to read), similarly to what happens with PUPs.

However, the term adware is most often used to refer to a form of malware which presents invasive, unwanted advertisements to the user of a computer. This malware bombards users with pop-up messages and redirects them to unwanted websites, as well as tracking the pages they visit in order to display more and more customized advertisements. In this context, the adware that observes the computer user's activities without their consent and reports it to the software's author is called spyware.

Preventive measures

  • Think before you click: Don't follow links received from unknown people.
  • Who is offering that app to you? Avoid downloading apps from untrusted sources.
  • Don't wait until tomorrow. Keep your systems always up to date.
  • Protect your identity with strong passwords.
  • Choose an advanced cybersecurity platform.

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