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How to remove adware from a Mac and further protect your device

It’s a common belief that Macs are far less of a priority for attackers in terms of targets, but that isn’t true anymore. One increasingly common way that Mac users can compromise their devices is by exposing them to Mac adware. While technically less severe than your average computer virus, the effects of adware on your Mac can still be consequential enough to warrant their immediate identification and removal. Proper removal of Mac adware may not only contribute to your Mac’s overall performance but also limit you from exposure to more serious security threats. Here’s how you can get rid of adware on Mac devices and drastically increase your odds of never getting them in the future.

How to remove adware from a Mac and further protect your device

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is adware?

Adware falls under a special type of program category called PUP, or potentially unwanted program. The difference between these unwanted programs and viruses is that you may have consented to their installation without completely knowing how they work or what they’ll do to your Mac.

In most situations, you get Mac adware via infected apps, malicious files downloaded from the internet, or an application that seems to be original but is actually a fake one. Most cases of adware infection can also result from other cyberattacks like phishing or social engineering.

The goal of adware is simple: Its purpose is to show unwanted content in the hopes that you’ll interact with it in some way. In most cases, this just leads you to websites or landing pages advertising a product or service. However, interacting with adware can also result in more serious consequences, like theft of your personal information and data.

How do you know if your Mac has adware?

One reason why Mac adware takes over so many Macs is because its behavior is relatively benign compared to your usual computer virus. Adware doesn’t usually delete files or hijack your Mac device. This can lure Mac users into a false sense of security or lead them to attribute any issues with their web browsers or devices to simple technical issues like lag.

If you’re experiencing the following issues with your Mac lately, you may have adware on your device:

  • Slow performance: Adware forces your web browser to redirect or initiate scripts to malicious websites or encourage you to download suspicious files. These actions slow down your Mac, especially if you’re browsing the web.
  • Website redirects: If you find yourself ending up on websites that you didn’t click on or have strange websites show up in your browsing history, it’s likely adware running a script that forces these redirects without your knowledge.
  • Increased number of pop-ups: The odd pop-up usually isn’t a cause for alarm, especially if it contains technical details like a website’s security disclaimer. But if your pop-ups lately have been about products, services, or other content, they are likely a symptom of adware.
  • Changed homepage: If your browser doesn’t show the default homepage or displays a different website when you open it, adware has likely infected your Mac. Changing homepages is a common way to force your browser to visit sites that generate revenue from visitors.
  • New extensions: Extensions that claim to speed up your computer or browser performance may be adware in disguise. Even if they fulfill their advertised function, they may install other software or increase the frequency and types of ads that you see.
  • Automatic installs: One of the telltale giveaways of adware activity on your Mac is any automatic installs of programs that you’re not familiar with or a software update that you didn’t schedule.
  • Unusual browser behavior: If you’re experiencing an increase in pop-up windows, incorrect search engine results, or rapid browser redirects, it’s likely that your browser or Mac has been infected with adware.

How does adware spread?

One reason adware can be so effective in infecting Macs is that it relies on user behavior and human error to get into your browser or system. Most users will generally install software without completely looking at the technical details or running a full scan of the program. Consequently, this allows adware to do what it wants because your computer recognizes that you gave it the appropriate permissions.

Some cases of how this may look like include:

  • Downloading a “free version” of popular software without checking if it’s legitimate.
  • Adware that comes bundled with legitimate applications.
  • False software or MacOS updates disguised as legitimate update windows.
  • Interactions/visits to malicious or compromised websites/links.
  • Email attachments that contain suspicious files or malicious programs.
  • Downloading peer-to-peer content/programs.

How to get rid of adware on your Mac

Once adware has infected your Mac or browser, it will keep showing you ads and changing your browser behavior till you remove it. Because it has the appropriate permissions to make changes to your browser or device, there’s always the possibility it can escalate its permissions or behavior to affect more crucial parts of your Mac.

This makes adware removal extremely important once you’ve detected signs of it on your system. Fortunately, there’s a relatively simple way to manually remove adware:

  1. From Launchpad, access Activity Monitor.
  2. Look for suspicious applications or extensions that you don’t remember installing. You can look them up to see if they’re adware — some examples include SearchUp, Genieo, and InstallMac.
  3. Click the “Force quit” button on the top left corner of the app window. Do this for each application you find.
  4. Go back to your applications and drag the suspicious apps to Trash.
  5. Restart your Mac and empty Trash.
  6. For extra security (or if you’ve removed plenty of adware) in your Chrome, Firefox, or Safari browser, uninstall it and download it again.

In most cases, manually removing suspicious applications is enough to remove adware from your system. However, if you’re still encountering the same issues above or if the applications keep returning, it may be better to consider an adware removal tool.

Adware removal tools automate the process of identifying and removing adware from your Mac, with additional features to protect you from other threats like malicious software. If you don’t have confidence in your ability to manually remove adware or don’t want to mess with your system preferences manually, an adware removal tool will be the best way to remove malware from a Mac.

How to get rid of adware on Safari browsers

Safari has made it easy for users to reduce the risk of encountering malicious pop-ups and other risks for adware. You can also remove adware and other suspicious applications in your Safari browser by doing the following:

On the iPhone or iPad:

  • Open Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
  • Click on Safari.
  • Toggle “Block pop-ups.”
  • Toggle “Fraudulent website warning.”

On the Mac:

  • Click “Settings” in your Safari browser.
  • Configure your system preferences for pop-ups in the “Websites” tab.
  • Toggle the “Fraudulent website warning” feature in the “Security” tab.
  • Check your Safari extensions tab for any unwanted extensions. Turn off then uninstall/delete these extensions.
  • Restart your browser or Mac.

If you use other web browsers, simply navigating to the settings in the menu bar of your browser should allow you to see what extensions you’ve installed and remove them accordingly. You should also ensure that your software is always updated to keep your Mac safe.

How to protect yourself from adware and other malicious software

Adware is only a threat if you let it become one. The simplest way to protect yourself from adware is awareness. Be conscious about what type of content you interact with, and always verify to make sure it comes from a legitimate source.

Some ways you can further improve your protection against adware include:

  • Practice safe browsing habits. Never visit unsecured websites or click on suspicious links.
  • Scan all downloads. Don’t open a file from the internet without making sure of what’s inside it.
  • Conduct regular scans of your Mac. Sometimes adware can slip through manual checks, so regular scans of your system can pick up on adware you may have missed.
  • Be wary of offers. If you see anything in your search results promising “free trials” or similar offers, always make sure to do your research on whether it is legitimate.
  • Never share your information without verifying who’s asking for it. This is especially crucial for financial information and other personal data that can be used to verify your identity online.
  • Don’t click on ads. While a pop-up can be legitimate, it’s always a safer option to not click on it if it’s showing a product or service rather than a disclaimer.
  • Check which applications have control over your system preferences. The capabilities of adware drastically expand if it’s given system permissions. Always monitor which applications have this capability.

For comprehensive threat protection from adware and other security threats online, try NordVPN today. Our robust security features allow for safe and private browsing online, and the capability to identify and remove threats before they ever become a risk to your devices.

Safe online habits lead to safer systems

Permanently removing adware is a challenging task because adware attacks rely on human error and keep changing their methods.. But using security software, conducting regular scans and checks of your Mac, and following tips for safe browsing can go a long way to making sure you never see an unwanted pop-up ever again.

The important thing to keep in mind is that once you’ve detected adware in your Mac, you should take immediate steps to remove it. The longer you let adware stay on your system, the greater the risk to your security. And even if adware itself can start off as relatively harmless, carelessness will only make the effects of adware on your Mac far worse.