Adware, also known as advertising-supported software, is software that automatically generates online advertisements on a user's screen to allow software developers to recover development costs or generate revenue. Adware often comes in software or programmes that users download from the internet, and displays unwanted ads during the installation process, hoping that users will click on them. This way the adware collects and reports marketing data and other information to the software authors without the user's knowledge, or redirects search requests to certain advertising websites.
Types of Adware
This is the type that allows users to consent to ads, software promotions, or even marketing information so that they can get the software or application for free. Some developers use this way to offset the development costs or use the income derived from presenting ads to continue to develop, maintain or upgrade their products. This is a legal way to offer customers products for free or at a reduced price in exchange for the revenue coming from ad impressions/clicks or marketing information.
However, not all software/applications downloads are voluntary or consensual, this is where the legal line may be crossed.
PUP (Potentially unwanted program)
A potentially unwanted program includes any program that a user has not chosen to download or install onto their computer or mobile device. Many times this form of adware can be highly abusive and create an open door for malicious programs that compromise the users' privacy and security. An illegal malicious adware PUP can be downloaded onto a user's device without permission and then distributes malicious software such as malware, spyware, and malicious virus, and sometimes it can infect a computer or mobile device so aggressively that the removal can be challenging.
From over 40 million ads scanned by AdSecure in the first quarter of 2022, AdSecure detected 60 ads that contained Adware or Unwanted Programs. Let's take a look at one Adware example detected by AdSecure so you can see the latest Adware trend.
This ad redirected users to the landing page with domain https://1frozenthrone1.com, which is currently flagged as malicious URL and has malware by several antivirus vendors integrated in VirusTotal and Sucuri. As the malvertiser injected a malicious code into the ad chain, a file was triggered to be downloaded automatically onto the user's device while the user interacted with the ad. This downloaded file was considered malicious adware, and was blocked by the Chrome browser.
Let's take a look at AdSecure’s scanning result of the downloaded file.
Most Adware comes along with auto-downloaded files, as malvertisers hope the users open the file so the malware or malicious adware can run or install automatically without users' acknowledgement or permission. Once the adware hijacks the device, the users' location, shopping interests, favorite websites or other browsing information can be compromised and they will be presented with featured advertisements everywhere within their web browser. It doesn't matter which kind of browser they use, it can affect all of them. What can be worse is that if the adware sells this sensitive information to malicious third parties, it may cause cybersecurity issues to the user's privacy and security. Malicious adware can also distribute malware, spyware or viruses onto the users' device that could harm the device or cybersecurity.
Here is another adware example detected by AdSecure, which was flagged by 19 antivirus vendors.
How to protect your end users
As part of the ad ecosystem, each of us has the responsibility to contribute to a better Internet environment for all end users to browse websites freely and safely, therefore it is imperative for publishers and ad networks to make sure that the ad content they serve to their users are optimized and of high quality. If end users are exposed to adware or any unwanted programs, they will have negative experiences such as devices slowing down, ads popping up in places they shouldn't, battery draining quickly, browser crashing, personal information stolen and more. As a consequence, the website owners will lose revenue from the reduced number of web visitors.
On the whole, both publishers and ad networks should have a dedicated compliance team or an ad quality solution such as AdSecure to help them actively monitor ad content in order to maximize their end users browsing experience, and make the internet a better and safer place for us all.