How can I remove AdChoices malware

How to remove adware & spyware from your computer

Arne Arnold, Benjamin Schischka, Roland Freist

Sneaky adware changes the homepage of your browser and displays advertisements non-stop. You can get rid of the nuisances with the tricks presented here.

EnlargeHow to Eliminate Adware.
© science photo - Fotolia.com

Annoying adware is usually caught much faster than a PC virus. Because your antivirus program protects you very reliably against the virus. But if an adware appears, i.e. a program that displays advertisements, among other things, then many anti-virus and other protection programs remain silent.

Because adware is not clearly malicious code. Most of the time, the software also has reasonably useful functions on board. Some users, for example, appreciate the possibilities offered by a browser toolbar. These additional menu bars for the browser show, for example, the weather for a specific location. In addition, however, many browser toolbars also display advertisements, change the start page of the browser or change the default search engine. The tools are correspondingly unpopular with many other users. Some adware is also placed in the notification area at the bottom right next to the clock and shows a small pop-up window with advertisements every few minutes. But who actually benefits from adware? Why do these annoying programs abound? A report by American civil rights activists named Ross and Reiter.

Most adware is captured through free software installers. If you choose the “Standard installation” setting in these installers, you will often get the unwanted advertising tools installed without further request. This can partly be prevented with the freeware Unchecky. This filters out some piggyback programs completely or deselects unwanted options in the installation program.

Forms of adware

In the case of adware, one can generally distinguish between two large groups: the tools that are piggybacked on and installed by freeware, and the browser and system extensions. Nowadays, the representatives of the first group are often referred to as potentially unwanted programs, or PUPs for short. These are usually small system tools that promise, for example, to track down and delete files that are not required, to tuning programs with dubious effects or to additional toolbars for the browser. Some representatives circumvent the installation rules established by Windows and do not appear under "Programs and Features" in the control panel. So you have to find other ways to get rid of them. More on that later.

The system programs also get onto the computer in this way. They are then called up via one of the Windows autostart channels and usually display advertising at regular intervals via the systray of the taskbar, which disappears after a few seconds. The best-known example of this is probably the virus scanner Avira Free Antivirus who advertises the paid full version or other products of the manufacturer every day when Windows starts. The vast majority of system tools, however, simply show paid advertisements for external companies.

Finally, the unwanted browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer may also have been transferred through the setup of freeware applications, but they often also get to the computer via drive-by downloads. The websites responsible for this exploit security gaps in the browsers to infect the visitors' PCs with the programs. However, these tools often not only change the start page and the standard search engine, but also log the pages visited in the background and provide the ad networks with a profile of the user.

EnlargeVia automatic forwarding, we ended up in an adware self-experiment with this offer for the Reimage tuning software.

Self-experiment: Reimage Repair ends up on our hard drive

One of the piggyback programs we caught on our test PC was tuning software from Reimage. This started automatically after a PC restart and offered us a scan of the system. After we agreed, Reimage Repair reported most of the previously loaded adware programs and offered to uninstall them. We are not happy about it, however, because the tool requires that we first buy a full version.

EnlargeOur test PC involuntarily caught a number of toolbars, PC optimizers and other dubious free and shareware, such as the Reimage shown here. Ironically, Reimage reported most of the information about previously installed adware.

So that you can help yourself, here are three step-by-step guides on how to get rid of adware. The first guide will help you with harmless adware. You can use the other two guides to get rid of the most stubborn advertising programs. The tips build on each other, so always start with the first method.

1. Uninstall

In the case of a rather harmless adware, a simple uninstallation is usually sufficient. The creators of the advertising software don't use nasty tricks to keep their tools on the system. Rather, they rely on the user finding the additional functions so useful that they keep the adware. If you want to get rid of this software anyway, you have to know where it can be uninstalled.

Here's how to get rid of harmless toolbars and other adware

The most common adware programs include browser toolbars. However, these additional programs are available in two different versions. Some can be removed via the browser itself, the others only with an deinstallation via the control panel. You can easily see the difference in the Firefox settings. Because certain additional programs cannot be deleted there, only deactivated. In these cases, strictly speaking, it is not about "extensions", but about "plug-ins". And plug-ins can only be activated or deactivated in Firefox. Because plug-ins are actually complete Windows programs that integrate an additional module into the browser. In Internet Explorer, too, there is a distinction between extension and plug-in, but the tools are kept in the same list. There are only extensions in Google Chrome. However, Chrome users should also check all uninstallation options in order to completely hunt the unwanted adware off the system. In our example, the "Elite Unzip" toolbar should disappear from the system. We installed them ourselves in search of as much adware as possible.

a) Uninstall the toolbar via the control panel: A rather harmless adware does not disguise its name. You can easily find it via "Control Panel -> Uninstall Programs" in the program list there and uninstall it with a double click. But first close all browsers. If the adware was recently installed on the PC, sort the list by clicking on "Installed on". The most recently added programs appear at the top, and you may then discover other programs that you last installed involuntarily. In our example, the toolbar is called Elite Unzip and its name appears in the list with exactly this name.

b) Uninstall the toolbar in the browser: In the second step, check all installed browsers to see whether the toolbar has already disappeared in them. Even if you were successful in step 1, the toolbar may still be present in some browsers. In our example, it only disappeared from Internet Explorer after uninstalling via the control panel, but not from the other browsers.

There is another reason why it is absolutely necessary to check all installed browsers - even those that you rarely use. Because if an adware is left in only one browser, it can hog all other parts of the system from there as soon as you start this one browser. The toolbar in our example wouldn't do that, but other adware programs would. You can control the most important browsers with the following steps:

Chrome: Click the menu icon and select “More Tools -> Extensions”. If the toolbar / adware appears there, delete it using the garbage can symbol to the right of the toolbar name.

EnlargeUnwanted extensions in Firefox can usually be removed at this point.

Firefox: Click the menu icon and select Add-ons. If the toolbar / adware appears there, delete it using "Remove" to the right of the toolbar name. Also check the entries under "Plugins".