Mac’s infected with adware is a growing trend I’ve been seeing, and it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid. Even the once trusted macupdate.com site has been recently identified as spreading adware.

There are two methods that adware gets installed on a Mac.

The first is the “wrapper” method, where a third-party company puts a wrapper around an actual app installer, and tricks the user into downloading their modified installer. A good example of this is doing a Google search on easyfind. The results will include the actual EasyFind installer from its developer Devon Technologies (www.devontechnologies.com/products/freeware.html), and a modified EasyFind installer from Softsonic (easyfind.en.softonic.com/mac). The modified installer from Softsonic looks almost identical to the actual app installer, will install a working copy of the EasyFind app, but also will install adware via its wrapper. Common adware installed by this method include Genieo, Spigot, Conduit, and VSearch.

The second is the “opt-out” method, where the developer deliberately includes adware in their installer, but gives the user the option to opt-out (uncheck it) during the install. The worst offender of this is Oracle. Their Java installer includes pre-checked checkboxes for “Add the Search App By Ask” and “Set Ask.com as my browser homepage”, and their Java updaters include a pre-checked checkbox for “Get a Yahoo homepage and new tab page on Safari and Chrome”. Trusting Mac users typically leave anything pre-check alone, and unintentionally install the bundled adware.

As mentioned above, the macupdate.com site is now also putting adware wrappers on several apps downloads. In the past I highly recommended macupdate.com for finding and downloading installers/updates, and it’s unfortunate that they have gone down this questionable path. Going forward I am recommending app installers/updates ONLY be downloaded from the vendor’s website, or through the Mac App Store (when applicable).

Mac adware has just been an annoyance to date, mostly tracking cookies and injecting web browser ads. They generate a source of revenue to the companies that trick users into installing them. The easiest way to prevent adware from being installed on Macs is to make all the workstation users Standard accounts (as opposed to Administrator accounts). App installers/updates require Administrator account authentication, so if all the workstation users have Standard accounts, they will have to request assistance to install anything.