Security Virus/Malware

Avoid Adware to Keep Browsers Running Like New

As a Help Center Consultant, I have seen countless computers come into our office with persistent advertisements, unintentional redirects, and other annoyances within web browsers. In addition to being an annoyance, the software that is generating these ads can also be harmful to your computer, and is often prohibitive when attempting to access websites. These symptoms are caused by software known as “adware”.

This is a browser infected with adware, notice the toolbars and homepage ads.
This is a browser infected with adware, notice the toolbars and homepage ads.

Why Doesn’t my Security System Stop This?

Even with an updated security system (McAfee, Norton, Security Essentials, etc.), adware can often slip through the cracks and go undetected. In most cases, this is not because your security system is not functioning properly, but because you (the user) inadvertently or mistakenly allowed the software to be installed. Adware tends to hide in the installers of other software, generally media-based freeware such as YouTube downloaders, MP3 converters, and video file converters. Paying close attention to the installation steps allows you to control the software being installed on your computer, and avoid unwanted adware.

How many times, when installing software, do you simply click “next” until the software is installed and working? Most users do this, and unfortunately this is the mistake that often allows adware to install itself. The first step in an installer is usually a choice between “Standard Installation” and “Custom Installation”. Standard installations automatically install the software to a specific location, create desktop and start menu shortcuts, and install any bundled software. Custom installation allows you to choose where the program is installed, and more importantly what is installed on your computer. A custom installation will give you the choice to install additional software, which in some cases is adware. It will also give you the option to choose if the program is set as default for certain file types. The following screenshot from a torrent client shows this in detail, this step of the custom installation is where the adware is allowed.

This installer is attempting to install a toolbar, change a search provider, and change the browser's homepage.
This installer is attempting to install a toolbar, change a search provider, and change the browser’s homepage.

This is why security systems sometimes do not detect adware, because by doing a standard installation or clicking “next” through a custom installation, the user allows the adware to be installed. Its equivalent to reading the fine print on an agreement, there are extra conditions that apply to installing software that the manufacturer imposes, however with software, you have the choice to control these conditions.

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Adblock Plus is a browser extension that disabled advertisements from appearing on websites. This eliminates the risk of clicking on an ad and downloading illegitimate software. Also, this extension cleans up Google Search results, ensuring that the highest links are actually what you are looking for.
  • Avoid software that promises “more secure searches” or “a quicker web browser”, as these are often traps for adware.
  • Check your browser’s add-ons or extensions, make sure you are only running extensions that you installed.
  • Periodically go through the list of installed programs on your computer and delete programs that are suspicious, mainly ones that you did not mean to install.
  • Periodically run a MalwareBytes Scan, as this software often detects adware and can assist in removing it.