Madware is a type of aggressive advertising that affects smartphones and tablets. The name, which is a portmanteau combining the words mobile and adware, was coined by the security vendor Symantec to describe a type of intrusive advertising that currently affects Android smarphones and tablets.

Typically, madware gets installed on a device when an end user agrees to allow ads in exchange for a free mobile app. Symantec reports that as of this writing, 25% of the free apps in the Google Play app store contain madware. Some madware can function like spyware by monitoring end user behavior and making undesirable changes to the device such as: 

  • Replacing the phone's dial tone with an audio ad.
  • Deliberately hiding from ad detectors.
  • Flooding the device with text message ads.
  • Collecting the device’s phone number and location.
  • Displaying ads on the device’s notification bar.
  • Adding icons or shortcuts to the device’s screen.

Left unchecked, madware can not only be annoying, it can also be costly in terms of increased messaging and data usage fees. Madware may also expose the end user to identity theft risks if the information the madware collects is sold to an unscrupulous data broker

It is expected that as mobile application development platforms (MADPs) make apps easier to build, more developers will try and monetize their "free" apps by bundling them with madware. Madware can be avoided by taking time to read each app’s end user agreement before checking “I accept” and being extra cautious when downloading apps that request to use the device’s location. Symantec offers a madware blocking app called Norton Spot ad detector.

This was last updated in December 2013

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