Every day we seem to get a warning about a new form of malicious software that could potentially be targeting our devices, and they often take many forms; Adware, spyware, stalkerware and malware. I suspect these all sound familiar, but are they just synonyms for the same thing?

Let’s break down these terms:

Malware is an umbrella term that can be used to cover all manner of threats such as viruses, Trojan horses, worms, Adware, stalkerware and spyware. Malware interferes with the standard operation of a computer or mobile device allowing a hacker to get their hands on sensitive information.

Spyware or Stalkerware is custom designed software that is dedicated to harvesting information about the device user. This might be for personal reasons, such as jealousy from a partner or ex-partner, or to covertly obtain financial information or other details to facilitate identity theft or fraud. You can read more about particular types of spyware and how to detect and get rid of them here.

Adware is something a bit different. This is unwanted software designed to make advertisements pop up on your screen. This happens most often within a web browser or an unscrupulous app and is usually designed to trick you into downloading something thinking it is legitimate.

The purpose of mobile Adware

So, what is the point of Adware for cell phones? Adware generates money for the developer by automatically displaying advertisements on your phone screen. The aim is to get you to click on the ad which can also be targeted to your internet searches. It could be anything from weight loss ‘miracle’ pills or schemes to get rich quick, through to fraudulent virus warnings stating that if you don’t click the button your data will be deleted, or a virus will infect your phone. You may also see new tabs opening in your browser, your home page may change without your permission, or you may be automatically redirected to a particular webpage.

How to spot Adware on your phone

There are some notable signs that you should be aware of. These are:

  • Advertisements popping up in places where they shouldn’t be.
  • The homepage of your web browser has changed without your permission.
  • Web pages that you typically visit are not displaying properly.
  • Website links redirect to unexpected sites.
  • Your web browser slows down significantly.
  • New toolbars, extensions, or plugins appear in your browser.
  • You notice unwanted software applications that have been automatically installed.
  • Your browser crashes.

What will Adware do to your phone and who is vulnerable?

Once the Adware is installed on your device it could access any area and carry out a number of unwanted tasks. It may be logging your location and pushing localized advertising onto your phone, or it could be logging your internet search history and the sites that you visit to try and present advertising for things that are similar. This all sounds like ordinary advertising cookies and practices from legitimate organizations, however, the one glaringly obvious difference is that this is software that you haven’t approved coming from an unknown source. There is a chance that the developers of the Adware are storing and selling your data to third parties, and this could present a serious threat to your privacy.

Adware mostly affects Android devices. iPhones are not particularly vulnerable to Adware unless the iPhone is jailbroken, or you are getting your apps from an unofficial third party app store. However, iOS devices can still be vulnerable to other types of malware including spyware, and these can allow someone to access all the private data on your phone. You can read more about iPhone specific spyware and how to tackle it here. Or download Certo AntiSpy, the only iPhone scanning tool on the market, here.

How to remove Adware from your Android phone

If you are concerned about Adware on your Android phone you might start by looking into Adware removal tools or an Adware cleaner. But before investing in a cleaner, you can follow some simple steps, outlined below, to find and clear out any Adware. Also, if you’re worried about Android malware in general, we always recommend running a free scan with Certo Mobile Security to check your whole device for threats and security vulnerabilities.

1. Ensure Google Play Protect is enabled

Google Play Protect is Android’s inbuilt security scanner and is included with most recent Android phones. It should be able to detect and remove most basic adware and you can ensure that it is enabled like this:

Open the Google Play Store app, then tap Menu > Play Protect

2. Remove unknown/malicious admin apps from your device

Some malicious apps (including Adware) use the Device Admin permission. This gives them more control over your device and makes the app harder to remove. You can check which apps have the Device Admin permission as follows:

Go to Settings > Biometrics and Security > Other Security Settings > Device admins apps

If your phone is running a different version of Android then Device Admin apps settings may be in a different menu. If you cannot find it using the above then you should be able to access it through one of the below routes:

Settings > Security > Device admin apps

Settings > Security & privacy > Device admin apps

Settings > Security > Device Administrators

Settings > Lock Screen and Security > Other Security Settings > Phone Administrators

Then disable admin rights by tapping the option to the right of the app. This will remove the checkmark or toggle the button to the off position. Once you have removed the admin status from the suspicious app, you can delete it.

3. Clear Google Chrome data

Most Adware affects your browser, therefore clearing your Chrome browser settings can be a quick way to remove it. Unfortunately, resetting Chrome to default isn’t straightforward when it comes to Android because it’s not an option built-in into the browser settings. In order to do this, you have to clear the application data. This will remove all the cookies, cache, and other site settings that may have been saved. To do this follow these steps:

Settings > Apps > Chrome > Storage > Manage Space > Clear all data

This should clear all the data saved in your browser. It is important to use Manage Space (or Manage Storage) rather than just clearing the cache.

4. Install an ad blocker app

Once you have ensured that you have cleared any Adware out of your phone you can then install an adblocker. A good free option for this is Adblock Plus.

Remember that not all malware is the same, and while these steps will ensure that you have no more Adware on your phone, they may not protect you against other viruses or spyware. To find out more about other types of malware and how to remove them from an Android device you can refer to this blog. Or to scan your device right now for spyware and other security threats check out Certo AntiSpy (for iPhone) or Certo Mobile Security (for Android).