Have you ever seen strange pop-up ads that appear seemingly out of nowhere, or experienced your web browser going to websites you didn’t direct it to as if it had a mind of its own? If so, you may have been the victim of adware. It is often installed “piggy backed” on other software that you may have downloaded intentionally, but once installed in this manner, one bit of adware can lead to others. You may be wondering how to get rid of adware or are wondering how to tell the difference between adware and a virus.
It may be difficult to get information on how to get rid of adware, or even how to differentiate adware from a virus. While viruses are often stealthy and designed to avoid detection, adware is intrusive, taking control of your web browser and flashing advertisement after advertisement on your desktop. In this guide, we’ll explain what adware is and go over a few ways to eliminate it.
What Is Adware?
Adware is software that is supported by advertising, much the way many webpages are. But instead of simply showing advertisements while you use the software in a normal fashion, adware is frequently intrusive, disruptive, and sometimes even dangerous. While viruses and adware aren’t the same thing, both are said to “infect” a target computer, and for good reason.
Adware generates income for its developers by automatically presenting advertisements pulled from the internet, and this constant background communication can slow your computer to a crawl. What’s more, the constant redirection of your browser can prevent you from viewing the content you would like to and can make getting information on how to get rid of adware that much more difficult.
Adware Can Slow Your Computer to a Crawl
Adwareis usually installed along with a free software application or game that you intentionally downloaded and installed. It often shows up during the installation process as a “free” addition to the software you want. When you install the free software, the adware comes along with it and can, in addition to flashing advertisements every few seconds and hijacking your web browser, collect information about you or your web browsing habits. It does this to better target you with advertising based on your interests or web history.
Adware itself isn’t intentionally malicious, which is how it differs mainly from viruses which seek to destroy data or cripple your operating system or at allow remote control of your computer. But while adware doesn’t directly harm your computer, it will load at startup and run in the background, consuming memory and slowing down your system with its constantly running processes. Often, the first sign you’ve been infected by a number ofadware packages is significantly degraded system performance.
How to Get Rid of Adware
Before attempting to remove adware, it’s a good idea to back up any data you have that you’d like to hang on to. While adware itself doesn’t target your data, the removal process can delete stored passwords, cookies that websites use to verify identity or legitimately track use, and otherwise “restore” your web browser (and sometimes other software) to the state it was in right after you first installed it. While not strictly necessary, backing up data is an extra step that you may wish to take.
How to Get Rid of Adware in Windows
First, you will need to boot your Windows PC into safe mode. Safe mode ensures that the adware or other software you are trying to get rid of won’t interfere with the process or be running in the background and therefore disable the ability to completely remove it. Be sure to remove USB drives or CD-ROMs that you may have installed in your system before following the procedures below.
Windows 8 and Higher
If you are running Windows 8 or 10, to restart your computer in safe mode simultaneously press the Windows and X keys, select “Shut Down or Sign Out,” then select “Restart.” Allow your PC to reboot all the way to the login screen, but don’t enter Windows. Instead, press click the power icon that appears at the bottom of your screen while simultaneously holding the Shift key.
This will restart your computer once more, but should present you with a menu when it comes back up. When you see this menu, select “Troubleshoot,” then choose “Advance Options,” and within those options select “Startup Settings,” and finally “Restart.” This will give you a screen that allows you to select “Safe Mode with Networking.”
Windows 7 and Lower
If you’re running Windows 7 or an older Windows operating system, click Start, then the drop-down arrow next to the words “Shut Down.” Select “Restart,” and when the computer begins its reboot process, repeatedly press the F8 key to access a menu that will allow you to choose how Windows loads. Just as in Windows 8 or 10 above, you will want to select “Safe Mode with Networking” and press the Enter key. Windows will then start in safe mode, but will still allow you to connect to the internet.
Removing from the Browser
After Windows loads completely (and this process may take longer than a normal restart), start your web browser to being the process of removing adware. You now want to check your browser for any extensions or add-ons that you don’t recognize or didn’t intentionally install, as this is a common way that adware infects computers.
Removing from the System
Next, check to make sure no adware programs are starting automatically when Windows starts. Press the Windows key and the S key simultaneously, then type “msconfig” (without the quotation marks) in the window that pops up. Next, select the tab that reads Startup to review a list of programs that starts with Windows.
Carefully review the list for anything suspicious or anything you don’t recognize. If you’re not sure what a program is, you may wish to research it on the internet from a computer that isn’t infected or from your smartphone. Click Disable next to any entries you wish to prevent from loading.
Next, review the list of software that has been installed in Windows. Open the Search menu, type “Programs” (again, without the quotation marks), and select Programs and Features. Carefully review the list of software for anything that looks suspicious or anything you don’t remember installing. It can help to sort this list by date installed so you can check the most recent entries first.
To remove a specific piece of software, click it once and then select Uninstall. Repeat this process until you’re sure you’ve removed everything suspicious, and again, it would be a good idea to research anything you’re not sure of before deleting it.
How to Get Rid of Adware in Chrome
If you are running Google Chrome, click the three dots in the upper right corner of the browser window. In the pop-up menu that appears, click More Tools and then click Extensions. Review the list carefully to spot any extensions you didn’t intentionally install. When you identify these adware extensions, just click Remove. Next, click Settings again, and then look for the On Startup button toward the bottom of the page.
If you see an entry there that isn’t one you entered or something benign like a blank page, delete that entry and either select one of the pre-defined radio button options or enter a webpage you know to be safe (like Google.com).
Then look for Search Engine, usually just above the On Startup section. Make sure that the search engine you wish to use is enabled. If you see a search engine listed that you don’t recognize, click Manage Search Engines and remove all but the ones you wish to use, being sure to remove any that look suspicious.
How to Get Rid of Adware in Firefox
The procedure to remove adware from Firefox is much the same. First, check add-ons by clicking the menu in the top right corner of your browser window. In the pop-up window, select Add-ons, then Extensions, and search the list for anything suspicious or for extensions or add-ons you didn’t install. Once you’ve spotted one, just click Disable next to it.
Next, reopen the menu again by clicking in the top right corner, then select Options and Restore To Default, then click OK. Click the menu icon in the top right corner one more time, then Options, and in the left-most bar click Search and set your default search engine to something you know and trust. If anything suspicious is listed under One-Click Search Engines, click it once and then click Remove.
We hope this has answered the question, “How to get rid of adware.” In conclusion, we’d like to offer the following tips to avoid being infected. First, make sure Windows Defender or another antivirus program is installed on your system and be sure to update virus definitions regularly (or better yet, enable the Auto Update feature that almost every antivirus program features).
Next, never download software from a website you don’t trust, and pay careful attention during software installation to be sure you don’t inadvertently install adware that’s piggy-backed on a free app or game.