Adware Is More Than A Nuisance And Accounts For More Than Half Of Malware Detections

In the second quarter of 2023, AdWare, an often-underestimated form of malware, is now the predominant mobile threat, accounting for 52.09 percent of all detections globally. This marks a significant uptick from its nearly 23 percent share in the previous quarter.

The rise of AdWare as the leading type of mobile malware is not just a statistical anomaly but also evidence of the evolving tactics employed by cybercriminals.

With more than half of all mobile malware detections attributed to AdWare, cybercriminals are increasingly leveraging this form of malware to infiltrate devices. Nasiru Eneji Abdulrasheed "AdWare Dominates Mobile Malware Landscape in 2023, Signaling a Shift in Cyber Threats" (Feb. 26, 2024)




Malware is short for malicious software, once defined by Microsoft as "a catch-all term to refer to any software designed to cause damage to a single computer, server, or computer network." Malware has been around for as long as PCs have existed. The types of malware vary from the benign to the dangerous.

Dangerous malware could take the form of a "worm," or a standalone piece of malicious software that reproduces itself and spreads from computer to computer. Alternatively, it could be a "virus," which is a snippet of code that inserts itself within the code of another standalone program, and then forces that program to take malicious action and spread itself. Or, it could be a "trojan," which is a program that cannot reproduce itself but masquerades as something the user expects and so tricks them into activating it so it can do its damage and spread.

Adware falls somewhere in the middle, in terms of risk.

In its most "benign" form, adware is often bundled into legitimate programs installed on the device by users, or even from the factory. It is used by those seeking to sell their products and is commonly included as a way for developers to monetize their creations, especially for a "free" version of an app. Pure adware, like a commercial advertisement, is annoying, but it does not hijack a machine or render it unusable.

Then, there are more malicious forms of adware. Responding to some adware programs will force your browser to redirect to web advertisements, which themselves seek to download more malicious software, including ransomware.

Another form is "Scareware" which may appear on your devices in the form of a pop-up warning that your device is unprotected and has been infected. Scareware always promises to "fix" your computer, for a fee, or requests access to your files to "clean them." Never respond to these messages, as they are always a fraud or are used to infect your computer with a real virus. The same goes for that "must-see" Facebook message from someone who never messages you but asks you to watch a video or click a link.

Adware is installed on a device or computer through other programs.  Users who download apps or programs from non-official sources, frequent "sketchy" websites, use pirated software, or bypass the built-in security architecture of their devices are most at risk for infection.

Protective steps to take include urging smart device users never to use jailbroken or rooted devices, as this allows malware access to all of the phone's accessories, such as cameras and microphones, and potentially unlimited administrator rights.

Users should keep their phone's firmware updated. Use a good antivirus app. Download only from official sites, and never from a third-party site. Be aware of what permissions are requested by the app. Enable two-step authentication to secure your financial accounts in case the malware attempts to access them.

Finally, change all account passwords regularly.

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