Mobile adware: What is it, and how do you protect yourself against it?

Mobile adware: What is it, and how do you protect yourself against it?


Whether one is a businessperson or a scammer (or someone in the business of pursuing scammers), one would do well to go where the money is. Now that nearly four billion people are connected to the internet via their smartphones, it is only natural for cybercriminals to target these devices more. One of the most prevalent malware they’ve developed for this media is mobile adware.

What is mobile adware?

Advertising supported software or adware is a type of malware that obtrusively displays ads on screens, typically when a user is using a web browser. Adware developers’ modus operandi is normally twofold: to lease ad space and to sell the data it gathers on users’ locations and browsing habits.

A natural progression for adware is for it to be turned into spyware: malware that eavesdrops on data transmissions and steals credentials for email and bank accounts, among others.

Mobile adware in particular has two types: one that takes advantage of a mobile browser’s vulnerabilities and another that is downloaded as a mobile app. The first enables unscrupulous advertising affiliates to make pop-ups appear when your browser executes redirections via an exploitable programming code. The second is an app that the user most likely did not know was actually an adware app.

Mobile adware displays nuisance ads without regard for your privacy and the quality of your online experiences. It also tracks your browsing habits and your location without your permission.

What does adware look like in action ?
Browser-based mobile adware typically makes ads pop up on the webpage you’re browsing, often taking up much of the screen. The mere act of reading a web page then becomes excruciatingly difficult, and the sudden nature of the pop-ups can make you tap on them instead of the item you actually intended to tap. This makes you go to the advertiser’s page even when you don’t want to.

Mobile adware apps, on the other hand, make app icons appear on your start screen without your permission, flood you with notifications, and make pop-up ads appear out of the blue, such as when you’re using apps that don’t display pop-ups (like Facebook) or when you’re not even using your phone.

The adware displays ads from the developer’s own clients and are typically for too-good-to-be-true weight loss products, secrets to becoming rich easily, alarming virus infections alerts for your device, and risque websites.

How is mobile adware different from mobile apps that display ads?
The difference lies in consent. By downloading apps — usually ones that are free — you agree to be shown ads that support the services you enjoy. Additionally, you normally have the option to switch to a premium ad-free version.

Mobile adware, on the other hand, displays nuisance ads without regard for your privacy and the quality of your online experiences. Beyond this, it also tracks your browsing habits and your location without your permission.

How do you protect yourself against mobile adware?

If your web browser shows any signs of being compromised, do the following:

  • If you’re on Android and a pop-up appears, tap the back key.
  • Clear your cache and history to prevent ads from returning.
  • Install an ad blocker on the affected browser.

Alternatively, you could switch to another browser and install your ad blocker there.

Adware apps, on the other hand, are harder to deal with because their developers make it difficult for users to uninstall their apps. Some adware apps hide behind would-be names of utility and system apps (such as “Update” and “Find Your Phone”). Others use two names: one for when the apps are actually running and another in the Settings app of your device. Then, there are others that are programmed to have their icons disappear from the app tray.

To protect yourself against mobile adware apps, the best method is always prevention over cure. Follow these tips:

  • Always update your device and apps to the latest versions to avoid their vulnerabilities from being exploited.
  • Do not download apps from third-party stores, only from the official App Store or Google Play store. However, some adware apps do manage to get on official stores, so always check user reviews and the number of downloads.
  • Be wary of apps that ask for unnecessary permissions. For instance, if a calculator app seeks access to your contacts, don’t grant it.
  • Unless you think that it is truly necessary, don’t let an app run in the background.
  • Install cybersecurity tools that will protect your device from malware.

Though mobile adware affects more individuals than organizations, it would still pay to nip cyberthreats in the bud. Protect your data by implementing a cybersecurity strategy that makes sense for your business. For all your data security concerns, consult with Umbrella.

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