You’re just browsing the Internet, like you do every day, and all of a sudden some ads just start popping up. The fact that these annoying popups managed to sneak past your ad-blocker app is the first sign that you’re not dealing with your everyday ads here, but rather something more serious. It is only when you start closing them down that you notice just how serious the problem is, as they simply refuse to close. If this scenario sounds familiar, chances are your computer is infected with adware. The good news is that adware is fairly easy to get rid of, and this article will teach you how to do it. The better news is that, once your computer is clean, it is easy to keep it that way – this online course on digital security will teach you all about it.
Adware is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Even though adware looks harmless at first, its sole purpose seeming to be to annoy you, the truth is that adware is quite dangerous. What makes it so is not the fact that it displays ads in a very aggressive manner, but rather the fact that those ads are exactly on topics of your interest, so you have to ask yourself: how does adware know what you are interested in?
Adware uses two tactics for obtaining a profit: the first is that it displays a lot of ads, which the creators hope that you will click, and maybe even make some over-priced purchases through them. The second tactic is to use the personal info it collects for monetization purposes.
As you may have figured out by this point, adware is not a standalone program acting just by itself, as its ads would not attract any clicks if they were just some random advertisements that promoted products you have nothing to do with; in order to make the ads attractive, adware relies on information about your browsing habits that is collected from your computer, usually without your knowledge, by another malicious-intended program – spyware.
Both adware and spyware, or malware, as they are usually referred to, make use of malicious webpages or programs to find their way to your PC. One wrong click on a webpage or an option that’s accidentally left checked on the installation window of an infected program is all it takes for such programs to be installed on your PC, and it’s all downhill from there.
Stopping Adware and Spyware before They Strike
Prevention is the best way of dealing with malicious programs – as long as you don’t invite them into your computer, there’s not much they can do to harm you. While nobody willingly installs malicious programs on their computers, a lot of people don’t do anything to prevent them from installing automatically either.
The easiest way to prevent such programs from infecting your machine is to make sure your machine is as safe as it can be. Set up a firewall, install an antivirus suite and keep all your programs updated. These things will not guarantee that you won’t still get infected, but they will greatly reduce the chances of this happening. You can learn more about how to make your computer as secure as possible by taking this online course on basic computer security.
Oh No, I’m Infected! What Should I Do?
Preventing an infection with spyware and adware is the best way to go, but if, for whatever reason, such programs managed to find their way into your computer, the most important thing is to keep calm and put together a battle plan.
There are four main aspects to consider:
- Preventing those programs from communicating with their servers;
- Removing the programs from your computer;
- Securing your computer;
- Undoing the damage.
With these four basic steps in mind, getting rid of adware is a simple and straightforward process.
Getting Rid of Adware
Because malware programs are so advanced nowadays, you will need an additional computer to download the programs you will need in the disinfection process. The reason you need a different machine for this task is because using the infected machine to do this will just get those programs infected right away, thus reducing their efficiency.
- Step 1
Your first action in the battle against adware is to cut its resources. Adware programs usually communicate with a server, so you will want to prevent this from happening. This will block the adware program from sending out more sensitive information, as well as prevent it from opening more backdoors to your computers, and thus allowing more malicious programs to be installed.
While there are a lot of software methods of disconnecting from the Internet, such as disabling your network connection, it’s easier and safer to simply unplug the Internet cable from your computer.
- Step 2
Once the Internet is down, it’s time to start the offensive. Use the secondary machine to download a clean copy of an anti-malware suite, such as Spybot (formerly known as Spybot – Search and Destroy) or Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware 11 – both of free, install it on the infected machine and let it do its magic.
In most cases, simply running one of these programs will most likely remove any malware present on the machine. However, if the computer is infected with something more advanced than malware, such as viruses or trojans for example, you will also need to perform a virus scan on that machine to remove those threats as well. Check out this online course for step-by-step instructions on getting rid of any type of virus, even the most stubborn ones.
- Step 3
Once you get your computer clean, it’s time to make sure it stays that way. You may want to leave the anti-malware software you used for disinfection installed, so it will keep malware away from your PC.
If an antivirus program was installed at the time of the infection, consider replacing it with a more powerful suite, such as a paid suite from one of the renowned vendors in the field. The idea of having to pay for a product when there’s a free alternative available might not be very appealing, but you might want to consider that the insufficient level of security a free alternative provided might have been the reason your computer got infected in the first place, so paying a fee to keep all your personal information out of reach might be a wise investment.
If you also keep highly sensitive information on your computer, such as financial data, you might consider taking an online course on data security to learn how to keep this data secured.
- Step 4
You may have gotten rid of the adware and spyware you had, but that doesn’t mean all your data is completely safe, as there is no way to know for sure what information was collected from your PC while it was infected. A lot of programs store passwords and login information locally, so this data may be compromised. Even your login credentials for websites that do not store them online may be at risk if the malware you were infected with came with a keylogger, as these programs record all your keystrokes.
I know this scenario sounds quite scary, but you shouldn’t worry too much, as the people behind these malicious programs get such a large amount of data that, in most cases, they do not even get to use it before the rightful owner discovers the security breach and takes measures.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you should only take the measures of changing all your passwords AFTER you get rid of the malware. It is very important to make sure that there are no malicious programs left on your PC, otherwise your newly-set passwords might get compromised right away.
Once your computer is clean and your passwords are all changed, you can breathe easy – you are safe.
If this infection got you a bit paranoid and you want to be extra sure that your passwords are safe, check out this online course on LastPass and Google Authenticator, and you will learn how to set up the most popular password manager, and integrate it with multifactor authentication offered by Google. It just doesn’t get any safer than this.
Taking Security to Another level
So you managed to get your computer clean and fix all the security holes your computer might have, but for somewhat reason you still don’t feel quite secured. Believe it or not, this scenario is fairly common, because it only takes one serious security breach to make someone rethink just how safe their data really is.
If you’re looking for a solution to prevent these mishaps in the future, maybe you should consider giving Linux a try; after all, it is considered to be the most secured operating systems there is.
Bryan Wilde wrote an interesting blog post on the subject, comparing Ubuntu and Windows from multiple points of view – check it out to see if Ubuntu would be a good fit for your needs. If it turns out that Ubuntu might be a good alternative for you, and chances are it will, making the switch is easier than you think. The operating system is free to download, installing it is quick and straightforward and learning how to use it is just a few clicks away – just take this online course and you will learn everything you need to know to get started with Ubuntu.
If Linux is not your thing, but you still want something different, why not switch the machine altogether, and buy a Mac? Apple is renowned for the attention they devote to security, so malware should not be a problem if you opt for a Mac. Besides security, Apple also focuses a lot on user-friendliness, so learning your way around OS X will be quick and easy. This online course will help you make the transition from Windows to Mac OS X as smooth as possible, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the new machine and operating system and start being productive right away.
As you can see, there is no lack of options, so it’s up to you to choose the solution that fits your needs the best. No matter what way you choose, one thing is clear: once you deal with some malware and see how vulnerable your digital life is, and how easy it can all be compromised, you will definitely be a lot more careful about the sites you visit and the software you install.