Anyone browsing online will know how irritating pop-up ads are. No matter where you click, there’s always a chance of a new tab or window automatically opening up to tell you “how to make $10,000 a month,” “how to get fit with this one trick” or something definitely NSFW.
These annoying advertisements are usually harmless. However, if you’re seeing a suspicious number of pop-up ads on your device, you may have a case of adware.
This type of malware sneaks onto your device and displays an abundance of unwanted ads. Not only is this annoying, but adware can also cause your PC, tablet or smartphone to slow down, drain its battery life and even lead to dangerous, data-snatching malware.
So, what is adware, and how do you remove it? We’ve got you covered below.
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What is adware?
Also known as advertising-supported software, adware is software that automatically displays numerous online advertisements on a user’s screen. It’s a way for threat actors to generate revenue by displaying ads and luring users into clicking on them.
This annoying software is generally less harmful than most malware, as developers mainly use it to make money by displaying continuous ads without harming the user. This can be done through pay-per-click (PPC), pay-per-view (PPV) and pay-per-install (PPI). The more ads you see or click, the more profit the threat actor will automatically make – this is why many ads pop up on your smartphone, tablet and PC.
Unlike the ads you see appear on webpages, adware is software that installs on your device disguised as a legitimate program or app. It can request your device to show windows over apps or windows, making navigating around your device frustrating. What’s more, it can evade detection by hiding its presence from a device’s list of installed apps or replacing an icon of an app or program you download to make it difficult to spot.
While less harmful, it can trick users into downloading malware, too. The ads that pop up can lead to malicious websites, and clicking the wrong link will expose your device to malware.
Is adware dangerous?
As far as malicious software goes, adware can be more irritating than harmful. In fact, developers use pop-up ads when creating free apps or programs as a way to generate revenue. After all, a free app with a few pop-ads will see more attention than one you have to pay for on any app store. You’ll find plenty of mobile games and utilities that throw plenty of advertisements on displays.
That said, there are different types of adware out there, and many aren’t so harmless. For example, it can come in potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) or potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). As it says on the tin, these are apps or programs you may not have intentionally installed on your device.
Adware in PUAs or PUPs can be used by developers to unknowingly (or knowingly) distribute other forms of malware, such as viruses, spyware and more. This comes from the different ads that are displayed, as when clicked on, it could lead to a dodgy website or install malicious software. While some app developers may not know that the ad-based software used is showing malware-infested ads, some threat actors use this method to intentionally distribute their malware.
Closing a bunch of pop-ads on your device can be a bother, but adware can also be dangerous. In either case, it’s a good idea to get rid of it.
Signs of adware
Adware can be easy to spot, as you’ll see many advertisements pop up out of nowhere, but other symptoms will notify you that your device needs some cleaning. This includes redirecting your browser to different web pages (like Google redirecting to Bing) and installing unwanted toolbars, extensions or plugins. However, it can also affect your device directly.
- Your device is slower than usual and crashes frequently.
- Your browser is slower than usual and crashes frequently.
- Browsing through websites takes longer.
- You need to recharge your device more often.
- Apps take longer to load.
- Slower internet speeds.
- There’s an unknown app or software on your device you didn’t download.
How to remove adware
Removing adware from your device is easy. You can do it manually or have other apps do it for you, with the latter being the easiest option. That said, you can simply delete a suspicious app or program to eradicate the malicious software, too.
Use adware removers and antivirus software
The best way to get rid of any malicious software that sneaks onto your device is to use an adware removal tool or antivirus software.
Many free adware removal apps will quickly dispatch any ad-based software lingering on your device. But it’s a good idea to ensure these tools are trustworthy, as hackers can also disguise these apps to deploy more malware. We recommend free apps from known cybersecurity companies, including Avast One and Malwarebytes Mobile Security. These will detect and remove any adware on your Android.
The best antivirus software comes with a suite of security features that eliminate unwanted adware and any virus, malware, ransomware, spyware or malicious software that burrows into your phone, tablet or PC. Some antivirus software, such as Bitdefender, offers security subscriptions specifically for certain devices, making it more affordable.
Remove adware on PC
- Use the search tool along the taskbar and type Control Panel on your Windows PC. Click on it.
- In the window that pops up, select Uninstall a program under Programs.
- Select any suspicious programs you don’t trust or don’t look familiar. Double-click or right-click to Uninstall.
- Once uninstalled, restart your device and run a scan using antivirus software.
Remove adware on iOS
- On your device, press the necessary buttons to turn off your device.
- Turn your device on again by holding the power button.
- Once it lights up, hold down the volume down button until you see the Apple logo. Your iPhone should now be in Safe Mode.
- Tap and hold any suspicious or unwanted apps.
- Tap Delete App. Restart your device to go back to normal mode.
Remove adware on Android
- On your Android, press the necessary buttons to turn off your device.
- Tap and hold the Power off icon.
- Press OK to reboot to safe mode. This will restart your device.
- Once restarted, head to Settings.
- Navigate to Apps.
- Select any suspicious apps you wish to remove.
- Tap Uninstall. Restart your device to go back to normal mode.
Best antivirus to remove adware
1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023
“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990.
Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats.
Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.
If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.
Read our full Norton 360 review
2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools
Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.
Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.
It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need.
Read our full Bitdefender review
3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC
Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.
Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.
That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement.
Read our full Malwarebytes review
4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!
With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.
Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.
It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.
Read our full Avast One review
5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!
You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.
AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.
Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.
Read our full AVG Antivirus review