In layman’s terms, adware (spyware) or advertising-supported software are programs that send ads to your computer browser. The ads are usually pop-up windows that consume your browser, and make surfing the internet nearly impossible. These advertisements may be either in the user interface, such as additional toolbars or extensions or the screen which the user is seeing or in an installation process where the program being installed offers a "bonus" download Adware can considerably slow down your overall system performance as well as slowing internet speed. Some forms of adware are built as mock websites appearing to be bank accounts or login screens to that collect passwords and financial information.
How Adware gets contracted
The simple answer is visiting unsafe “free” (i.e. illegal) music and/or download or streaming sites. While there is a moral debate on how and where content can be consumed, these “free” sites pack their pages with as many advertiser options as they can get on a page. Picture advertisements, link advertisements, and pop-up windows are an extremely common features of these websites.
How to spot Adware
Cyber criminals develop new ways to trick people into downloading their software. Methods of attack are always changing, and as always in these cases it is a cat and mouse cycle. However, taking precautions can keep computers free from infections.
Beware of Stealth Downloads
Anyone who uses a computer is aware of the warnings and alerts that come up unexpectedly. Browsers have pop-up blockers but they do not always help in preventing pop ups as users (space added here) move from site to site. A lot of users do not stop and think about what they are clicking; They click the first button that appears to close the pop-up so that they can resume their surfing, or re-log into a site that has seemingly logged itself off.
Cyber criminals rely on this behavior of clicking first and thinking later by putting up mock notifications or warnings that users download instead of closing.
To ensure to the downloaded the software is safe needed, download from the source website if possible. At the time of this writing, Apple helps find safe software curated on the Mac App Store and use the latest software versions available to the computer.
Be careful around emails that look “phishy"
Don’t download attachments in the emails and messages that you are not expecting. Even if the email is from a known person, the attachment can be infected. It’s always a good step to ask the person who sent it what it is before clicking or downloading anything from an email. Downloading the attachment can allow the attacker access to contacts, and begin using the recipient email to email out the same link! Stay above that vicious cycle!
Always remember that computer security starts and finishes with responsible usage and housekeeping. Upgrading to the newest and most recent version of your operating systems allow for the latest security patches. Some older software may be keeping you from upgrading the computer, however, I have always been of the opinion that if the latest upgrades do not support a software I am using, I will be far better served finding a suitable replacement.
As a final word as to what to do when Adware is suspected to be on your computer, I’ll hand this one to the experts. Both Apple and Microsoft have extensive articles on the steps they suggest to diagnose and remove Adware. I’ll side with Smokey the Bear, in the opinion that only You can stop adware and prevent its effects. Surfing the internet is like driving a car in some aspects. Everyone can use the roads, but it’s up to the driver to make sure the car stays on the road, and we know where we’re he’s going. Otherwise our car could end up on the sidewalk in a dark alley. It’s much better to avoid getting stuck.
Some Additional Assistance
If your computer exhibits symptoms of Adware - fear not! Both Apple and Microsoft have great resources available to help get rid of the issue. Be sure to check them out!