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Adware isn’t intrinsically bad. All software with embedded advertising is basically adware. And that includes many legitimate and useful programs, which are funded by ads and therefore free to use.
Sadly, not all adware is so friendly. Some malware floods your PC screen with unwanted pop-ups. Other free applications and online services simply annoy you with too many ads.
Naturally, you want to get rid of such invasive garbage. Here are some tips for how to deal with various kinds of malicious and annoying adware.
When adware is malware
The most threatening adware is the kind that does nothing but show endless pop-up ads on your desktop. It’s essentially malware. Some of this adware, known as spyware, also steals your data and sends it to a third party.
Your computer is likely infected with this kind of adware if:
- Pop-ups appear when you haven’t even started a program. The adware is running in the background from startup.
- The ads are for adult sites and other dubious promotions. Some malicious adware also advertises legitimate products.
- You’re not sure how the program got on your computer. Malware and spyware are often distributed through Trojan horses, browser vulnerabilities, phony downloads and other nefarious means.
How to remove malicious adware
Since malicious adware is designed to find its way onto your computer and stay there, slowly driving you nuts, removing it isn’t always easy. The program might use rootkit technologies to hide its files and activity. So it’s not just a case of uninstalling the program via Windows Control Panel or trashing it in OS X.
Fortunately, there are many other ways to remove and defend against adware.
Your OS’s tools – Malware is such a prevalent threat nowadays that major operating systems have their own built-in removal tools. Windows offers “Malicious Software Removal Tool,” which scans and removes known adware. Mac OS X also automatically scans downloads and quarantines known threats. Make sure your system is up-to-date, or these tools won’t work properly.
Third-party security software – Popular security and anti-virus suites like Norton, Kaspersky and McAfee all include adware detection and removal tools. Again, make sure these programs are up to date with the latest definitions. If you think your computer is infected, run a scan. You can check out the best free anti-virus options as well.
Adware removal tools – There is also a huge range of programs available to download, which are specifically designed to remove adware. Best of all, many of these programs are free. Popular free tools include Spybot Search & Destroy, Combofix and HijackThis.
Check your removal tool’s reputation first
Just make sure you use a reputable adware removal tool. Malware is often disguised as free downloads that claim to offer you a free virus scan or adware removal tool. These rogue security software downloads will actually infect your computer with more malware.
Check reviews on your favorite tech review site before downloading programs you’ve never heard of. You’ll get a much better idea of which tools are worth your time.
Don’t get fooled again
That goes for downloading programs in general, too. The best way to stay adware-free is to avoid getting infected.
- Research the reputation of new programs before downloading them
- Be cautious when downloading anything from unfamiliar websites and file sharing services
- Install security software that auto-scans new files for adware and other infections, if you want to be extra cautious
Vote with your feet on legitimate adware
Finally, malicious adware isn’t the only kind that can annoy. When a real program or online service bombards you with too many adverts, just remove it or stop using it. In many cases, upgrading to a premium version of the software will remove the ads.