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What is adware? What you need to know to keep your system secure

Fed up with pesky pop-up ads while you’re browsing online? There's a chance that adware is the cause — learn more about this type of malware and how to remove it from your system.

6 min read

Constantly bombarded with pesky pop-up ads when you’re simply trying to shop online or watch videos in peace? It’s definitely annoying, but it might not be as harmless as you would think. Persistent pop-ups can be a sign that your system is infected with adware. But what is adware exactly? And why is it important to know about this specific type of malware? 

In this article, we've got the answers to these questions. Plus, get step-by-step instructions for how to remove adware from your device. Let’s jump in!

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What is adware?

Adware is malicious software that displays unwanted advertisements on a computer or mobile device. It’s often bundled with other software and installed without the user's knowledge or consent. This cyber attack slows down your computer, tracks your online activities, and even steals your personal information. It can be challenging to remove and can cause a lot of frustration for users. 

But that’s not the biggest reason why adware is a concern. It can act as a gateway to other potentially harmful advertisements or malicious websites — which can compromise your security and privacy. That’s why it’s essential to protect yourself and to remove adware from your system as quickly as possible if it gets infected.

How does adware work? What does it do?

Adware works by displaying unwanted advertisements, usually pop-ups, on a computer or mobile device.

There are various ways that hackers try to lure you into installing adware. For example, they might encourage users to click on malicious links, visit infected websites, or download free software that has adware bundled inside. Once installed, adware can:

  • Track your online activities
  • Display targeted ads based on your browsing history and search queries
  • Collect personal information, such as your name, email address, and browsing habits
  • Send your data to third-party advertisers without your consent
  • Redirect you to unwanted websites
  • Install additional malware on your device 

Adware can be difficult to remove, as it often hides in the background and can reinstall itself even after removal.

It’s important to protect your device against this and other types of cyber attacks — we cover a whole range of them in our security series.

How can you protect yourself from adware?

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from adware. Here are our tips:

  • Use antivirus software. Install reputable software on your device and keep it up to date. This will help detect and remove any adware or other malware that may be on your device.
  • Be cautious when downloading software. Only download software from trusted sources, such as the official website of the software provider. Be wary of free software downloads, as they may be bundled together with adware or scareware.
  • Keep your operating system up to date. Make sure that your device's operating system and software are updated with the latest security patches and updates. This will help protect against known vulnerabilities that adware and other malware try to exploit.
  • Use a pop-up blocker. Install a blocker to prevent unwanted pop-up ads from appearing on your device or in your browser.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links. Use your best judgment before clicking on links in emails or on websites, especially if the sources are unfamiliar. Malicious links are one of the most common tactics for getting users to install adware without realizing it.

By taking these steps, you’re more likely to stop adware and other malware from compromising your online security and privacy. For extra tips on how to stay safe online, check out our security guide.

What are the signs of an adware attack? 

Your computer keeps crashing and you think you're under (cyber) attack? Here are some signs that you may have adware on your device:

  • Pop-up ads: If you see an unusually high number of pop-up ads, especially ones that are difficult to close or keep reappearing, it may be a sign of adware.
  • Slow performance: Adware can slow down your device and cause it to crash or freeze. If your device runs slower than usual, it might be infected.
  • Unwanted toolbars: Adware can install unwanted toolbars in your web browser that can be difficult to remove.
  • Redirected searches: If your web searches are being redirected to other websites, there may be adware on your device that’s interfering with your browser.

If you suspect that there’s adware on your device, there are a few steps you can take to remove it. Let’s go through the list of best practices.

General tips for removing adware

  • Use antivirus software. Run a full system scan with your antivirus software to detect any malware on your device and remove it.
  • Uninstall suspicious programs. Go to your device's control panel and uninstall any suspicious programs that you don't recognize or that you suspect may be adware.
  • Reset your web browser. Adware can install unwanted toolbars and change your web browser settings. Resetting your web browser to its default settings can help reverse the changes.
  • Use adware removal tools. There are several malware removal tools available that can help detect viruses and remove them from your device.

For Google Chrome users, we’ve got even more specific tips in case the adware on your device is particularly resistant.

How to remove adware from Google Chrome

Here are some additional steps you can take to remove adware from Google Chrome:

  • Reset Chrome settings. Open Chrome and click on the three dots in the top-right corner to open the browser menu. Select "Settings" and then choose “Reset settings” on the left side. (If you don’t see that option, scroll down to the bottom of the Settings page. Click on "Advanced" and then select "Reset settings.") Click “Restore settings to their original default” (also sometimes labeled "Reset settings") again to confirm.
  • Remove suspicious extensions. Open Chrome and click on the three dots in the top-right corner to open the browser menu. Select "More Tools" and then "Extensions." Look for any suspicious extensions that you don't recognize or that you suspect may be adware. Select the extension and then click "Remove" to remove it from Chrome.
  • Clear cache and cookies. Open Chrome and click on the three dots in the top-right corner to open the browser menu. Select "More Tools" and then "Clear Browsing Data." Select "All time" as the time range and tick the boxes next to the "Cookies and other site data" and "Cached images and files" options. Click "Clear data" to clear your cache and cookies.
  • Use antivirus software. Install reputable software on your device and run a full system scan to detect and remove any malware.

With these steps, your device and browser should be infection-free — don’t forget to return to the list of preventative measures above so that you can keep your system that way! After all, when it comes to cybersecurity and privacy, a small issue can quickly turn into a major headache.

Security at N26

Adware isn’t just annoying — it can be a serious threat to your online security and privacy. To keep yourself safe, it’s important to follow best practices and stay vigilant. By taking a few simple steps, you can help protect your device and personal information from all kinds of malware.

At N26, we take your security seriously. That’s why we’re continually updating our blog with information about important security topics and common scam tactics, like social engineering. Want to learn more about staying safe online? Check out our tips on protecting your phone from hackers, and remember to set up strong and secure passwords.

By N26

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