What is Adware?

Adware - or Advertising-Supported Software

Adware, which is short for “Advertising-Supported Software” is any software which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertising material to a computer after the software is installed on it.

It is usually included with other software downloaded from the Internet, especially what you download for "free". The price you pay is having the adware installed on your computer. when you run the program that you downloaded for "free" from the Internet, it will usually automatically cause adds to pop up on your screen thereafter.

Adware software is integrated into or combined with another program. The person or company who is making the free program available is usually paid for including adware in his program. This is one of the ways that some programmers make a living or cover the cost of writing "free" programs.

Sometimes Adware takes the form of spyware, keeping track of what you do on your computer, and which pages you visit on the web. This information is automatically sent over the Internet to the company which runs the adware. The data is then used in order to target you with specific advertisements, or is sometimes resold to other companies. This is can be done entirely without your knowledge. Should you, however, complain about this, you would most likely be referred to some fine print in the license agreement which you accepted when you installed the "free" program.

Some Adware can interfere with the functions of other programs running on your computer, in order to force you to visit a particular web site. If you find yourself being automatically sent to a certain website, you can be fairly certain that you have some form of adware running on your computer.

These days it can be hard to separate out "Adware" from "Spyware" and "Malware;" especially since many programs might do all of these things at the same time. For example, if you install "adware" knowingly or unknowingly on a computer, and agree to a tracking feature, the "adware" becomes "spyware" as it is now also keeping track of what you do and sending the information somewhere. If someone else visits or contacts your computer, this will also be recorded and his information is then passed on as well.

Some Adware is not classified as Spyware because, somewhere in the user agreement it says that "third-party software will be included that may collect and may report on computer use." As the company has included this statement in the "Terms of Use," it is now no longer Spyware but simply Adware, as they are not "secretly" collecting and tracking your information. But really... how many people actually fully read the Terms of Use.

Another circumstance to take into account is the case when there are more than one person using the computer. In the case of a family computer, your kids might download a simple "free game," and unaware of all the facts, automatically agree to have Adware installed. All you see is the kids playing a new game. You might even be happy as it didn't cost you dime this time. However the "free game" is most likely not all that was downloaded.

Here are a few names of well-known Adware programs. This list is by no means complete and serves only as an example:

123 Messenger
180 Solutions
Bonzi Buddy
Comet Cursor
Direct Revenue
Ebates MoneyMaker
Mirar Toolbar
Smiley Central

There are also programs that specifically detect and remove adware, some are as follows:

Ad-Aware by Lavasoft
Kaspersky Internet Security
AVG Free Anti-Virus and Internet Security
CounterSpy by Sunbelt Software
Spybot Search and Destroy by Patrick Kolla
SpySubtract by Intermute
SpySweeper by Webroot
Spyware Doctor by PCTools
AVG Anti-Spyware by Ewido
AVG Anti-Malware by Ewido

These programs are designed specifically to detect spyware, and will not detect or remove viruses. A few of the above Ant-Adware products are available for free on the Internet.

Keep in mind that anti-Adware or Anti-Spyware programs are not Antivirus programs. This is a different subject entirely. Most Anti-virus programs also detect Adware and Spyware.

You can do a more thorough search for adware or spyware by first scanning with one program and then with another (or others). In most cases I have found that different programs find different things. More example, if you would first scan with Spybot Search and Destroy and then with Ad-Aware, the Ad-Aware would possibly find spyware which spybot had not found. And vice-versa.

The same goes for antivirus programs. I sometimes have to scan with more than one antivirus program in order to find and handle any and all viruses that my system has picked up. This can be time consuming as one usually has to uninstall the first antivirus program before the second one can be installed – but it is sometimes worth it.

Some of the newer web browsers, such as Firefox, also include add-blocking functions which can prevent harmful or annoying adds - and, as such, are safer to use.

- Anna Stone