Adware – Those Sneaky Invaders From the Internet


Editor’s Note – Sooner or later almost every computer user gets ’em, no matter how careful you are.  We’re talking about those pop up ads or toolbars that are annoying at best and can cripple your computer at worst.  We asked our friends at AVG anti-virus software for some guidance on how to deal with these threats. 

Guest Column

by Tony Anscombe
Security Evangelist, AVG Technologies

Beware the Things That Lurk In Your Browser.
adware screenEver downloaded or accessed something from the Internet and got more than you expected?

The Internet has grown in the last 20 years into a mass information source, but with this some less than scrupulous companies and individuals seek financial gain in ways that are not always in our best interest as consumers.

I recently had a conversation with someone that described some strange behavior on his computer. The description started with ‘I have an infection that no one can fix”… The description then extended and it was clear that the browser on the machine had all sorts of things loaded that meant browsing was interrupted with pop-ups, sliding things from the side, injected advertisements in popular websites and was, basically, an unusable experience.

The issue was that the browser had a number of add-ons/extensions installed that were trying to hijack his search and drive him to different websites that make the vendor of the software money. Imagine getting your Sunday newspaper and someone has stuck advertisements over all the content you want to read?

This is the world that we know as “Adware” or Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP). These programs get installed with other applications that you may have downloaded from somewhere and, typically, are not clear in their intent when being installed. The programs may be tracking your browsing, which could be considered as an invasion of your privacy…

Does this sound familiar and what do you need to do to get rid of what many people consider an infection on their machine?

AVG_LOGO_RGBYou can download AVG AntiVirus (free or paid) and run a full system scan. Our researchers are continually adding detection for this type of software and a full scan will detect and remove the known bad stuff.

Alternatively you can check out the add/remove programs in Windows for things that you don’t recognize and remove them. One method that I always find useful is to sort the programs by date. This shows me things that have been installed recently and identify that I installed product X and on the same day product Y and Z also got installed. If you don’t recognize Y and Z, search the Internet for them to find out what they are and then remove them if necessary.

However, in the case I mentioned above, there was nothing installed through the Windows programs and the bad stuff was all in the browser. Depending on which browser you use, access the ‘extensions’ or ‘add-ons’ and take a look at what extensions you recognize and remove the ones you don’t. Again, if there are things you are unsure about, search the Internet to see what they do.

Once removed, the pop-ups and other interruptions should stop. If they haven’t, then you can take the step of resetting your browser to factory defaults.  Most browsers have this option for exactly the reason you are about to click it for: to get rid of the bad stuff and allow you to start over.

Once reset, you should be good to go again and, hopefully, have a browsing experience that is free from the unwanted interruptions.

A pro-active way to avoid future infections of this type is to download programs from trusted sources. For example, if you want to get AVG AntiVirus Free then go to the AVG website and download it rather than an unknown third party website. Then read the install flow of any installation carefully and understand what is being installed.

We need to treat our computers in the same way we make decisions in the real world: a a vigilant attitude is required to protect you from the bad guys.  There is no sheriff for the Internet. 


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Gary is an award-winning journalist who has been covering technology since IBM introduced its first personal computer in 1981. Beginning at NBC News, then at ABC News, Ziff Davis, CNN, and Fox Business Network. Kaye has a history of “firsts”. He was the first to bring a network television crew to the Comdex Computer Show, the first technology producer on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, the first to produce live coverage of the Solar Power International Conference, and the creator of the Fox Business Network signature series, “Three Days In The Valley”. Along the way he created the History Channel Multimedia Classroom. He has been a contributor to both AARP’s website and to AARP radio, as well as to a handful of other print and web-based publications where he specializes in issues involving boomers/seniors and technology. He has been a featured speaker and moderator at industry events such as the Silvers Summit and Lifelong Tech Conferences at CES, the M-Enabling Health Summit, and the What’s Next Baby Boomer Business Summit. His column, “Technology Through Our Eyes” appears in half a dozen newspapers and websites across the country.