Is your computer plagued with pop-up advertisements? Are there new shortcuts on your desktop that go to websites you’ve never seen before? Has your computer slowed down to a crawl, particularly when using your web browser? If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, adware is the most likely cause.
Adware is advertising-based software. It is designed to track your online surfing habits and/or deliver advertisements to you in the form of popups or direct links (shortcuts). Although adware is usually more annoying than anything else, it is a close relative to the extremely dangerous “spyware”. If you have adware on your system, chances are good that you have spyware too.
Where Does Adware Come From?
Unlike spyware, which is designed to “self-install” without your knowledge (simply by landing on a tainted web page), adware normally requires that someone actually install it. Now before you start in with the ”I never installed that!” routine, let me explain….
The developers of adware know that no one would ever intentionally install their nuisance products, so they bundle it in with useful software that people really want. The software that usually includes additional adware applications is usually “free” software that is downloaded via the net. Sometimes adware is packaged in with software that comes on CD-ROM. I have seen adware included in everything from store-bought games to printer and digital camera installation CD’s. Adware usually gets installed because the user doesn’t realize that she agreed to let it install. Here’s how that happens….
When you install software, you normally have to agree to the End User License Agreement (EULA) before the installation process starts. If additional advertising based software adware is included, it is normally disclosed in the EULA. Since no one ever reads the EULA (who would? It’s boring!) we don’t realize that by accepting it we are agreeing to the installation of the adware as well as the “good” software. Pretty sneaky, huh? Usually, if you don’t agree to the software license, you cannot install the software. With many “trial versions”, the adware is turned “off” when you buy the software and enter a license key.
How To Remove Adware
Sometimes when you uninstall the software that included the adware, the adware is also removed. More often than not though, uninstalling will remove the “good” application but not the adware. Unfortunately, adware is usually written poorly and even if you manage to remove it, pieces of it still exist on your system (draining it’s resources).
The only way to remove adware is to use a program that is designed especially for this task. A good program to use for this is AdAware by Lavasoft. It is free for personal use, and does a pretty good job of removing most adware from your system. AdAware may not remove everything though (what do you expect for free?). For the adware that AdAware doesn’t touch, try downloading a free spyware remover. One of the best free ones is SpyBot S&D. This program will remove some adware, and also some spyware. If you still experience pop-ups and slow performance after using both of these products, it’s time to purchase a good anti-spyware product that also handles adware (the two are closely related, remember?).
All of the better antispyware products allow you to “try before you buy”. Start with one, and if it cleans up your adware problem – buy it. If not, uninstall it and try another. There are so many new varieties of adware and spyware introduced onto the internet every day that no single product is likely to catch it all.
If you simply cannot remove your adware using adware and/or spyware removers, the best thing to do is pull out your system restore disk (hopefully you still have it) and reformat your hard drive. After doing that, you’ll need to reinstall your operating system and all your applications. This is a time-consuming process, but sometimes it’s the only way to bring a computer back to life. If you’re not very tech-savvy, take your computer to a repair shop for this, but be prepared to pay upwards of $100. Once your system is back to “normal”, purchase and install a good computer security suite. If you don’t, you run the risk of another spyware and/or adware infection.
How to Prevent Adware
The only way to prevent the installation of adware is to carefully read the license agreement before installing software. If it includes the word “advertising”, don’t install the software. Never download and install special “toolbars” or “shopping assistants”, as these are pure adware. Be sure you are using a good computer security suite, or at least an antispyware product. This will help keep adware’s dangerous cousin – spyware – off your computer.
Here’s where to download AdAware adware remover.
Here’s where to download Spybot S&D – spyware remover.
Here is some information on recommended spyware removers. Most allow you to "try before you buy".