What is the Difference Between Adware and Malware?

Anna T.

The difference between adware and malware is that adware is designed to expose people to unsolicited advertising, typically in the form of pop-up windows, and malware is designed to intentionally harm a person's computer or to cause a virus to spread throughout a computer network. Adware is not usually intended to harm a person's computer or network, but the frequency of pop-up ads can slow down computer speed overall. Both types of software can typically be avoided if programs to protect against adware and malware have been installed. People who do not have these programs to protect their systems could end up spending a great deal of money to hire a specialist to repair computer damage.

Windows users are encouraged to regularly scan their computers and laptops for malware.
Windows users are encouraged to regularly scan their computers and laptops for malware.

Many people feel that adware, even though it is not usually intended to harm a computer, is an invasion of privacy. This is because the people who create adware have methods of tracking web browsing habits in order to better target certain types of ads to people. For example, if a person is frequently looking up houses to buy or rent, he may begin receiving lots of annoying pop-up ads pertaining to real estate. Many people attempt to exit out of these ads by clicking the appropriate button on the ad and are instead taken to an entirely different site, usually trying to sell them something. The person who created the adware will then usually receive some form of compensation for having received clicks on the ad.

Some forms of adware simply display advertisements in exchange for free software.
Some forms of adware simply display advertisements in exchange for free software.

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Adware and malware are both normally considered problematic, but malware is typically much more dangerous to a person's computer than adware, and it is often created for the purpose of stealing sensitive information. People who get viruses or worms on their computers, which are two forms of malware, may be at risk of having their passwords, credit card information, and any other personal information they have entered into their computers stolen. Viruses can manipulate important settings inside a computer to make it run very slowly, restart itself unexpectedly, and cause other similar problems. Worms are often created to infect not only the computer of one individual, but also the computers of every other person that individual is connected to through email contacts or via a computer network.

There are many software programs that come equipped with adware, and when a person installs the software, she might also be installing adware without realizing it. Adware can occasionally lead to malware if a person clicks on an adware ad that takes her to a suspicious site. The best way for the average person to protect against adware and malware is to install software to protect against both. Many people do not like the idea of using anti-virus software on their computers because they might be afraid the software running in the background will slow their systems down, but using software designed for computer protection could ultimately save lots of money on computer repairs in the long run.

Adware is not usually intended to harm a computer or network, the way that malware is.
Adware is not usually intended to harm a computer or network, the way that malware is.

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Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- true, and a lot of people don't pay attention to malware, adware or anything else until it is too late. Fortunately, the Internet is a great resource for identifying a malware or adware problem and removing it.

If you have a system that is so damaged by malware that it won't work, there are some things you can do to get rid of it yourself. If you can't access your computer, research the problem until you find a solution. A lot of the time, a specialized tool will be available that you can download to a thumb drive and then run on the infected computer.


A lot of people consider adware and malware to be the same thing in that they both make your computers do things you don't want. There are times when they are, in fact, one in the same. If a program takes control of your computer and won't allow it to work right until you buy a product that is supposed to remove an identified program, are you talking about malware or adware?

You're really dealing with both. It was the malware that infected your computer to begin with and it has an adware component of selling you a cure to the mysterious problem.

Anyway, because adware and malware are both annoying programs that can cause harm, there are some dedicated scanners out there that deal with that class of program. Do some research, download a free scanner and keep yourself protected. It takes a bit of time, but losing a little time is much better than having to pay someone to fix your computer.

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