Malware and adware

Very rarely, unethical affiliates may use malware and adware to drive traffic, steal from merchants, steal from other affiliates, and participate in “cookie-stuffing.” This section will explain how malware and adware work and examine the way in which they drive false clicks and other violations.

Malware, also known as malicious code, is a harmful piece of software written with the intent of infecting a computer. Malware includes programs such as spyware, pop-ups, and pop-unders. Oftentimes these programs are installed on users’ computers without their full knowledge or express permission.

Adware is a type of malware that generates revenue by forcing a computer to display advertisements. 

Malware and adware track users, granting the affiliate detailed information about a user’s online activity which allows them to more directly target the user. Using information gained about the user’s searching and purchasing, this software can launch various ads or browser windows that cookie-stuff and steal from the merchant and other affiliates.

Pop-Ups, Pop-Unders and Hidden Windows?

Pop-up ads are generally designed to recognise when a user is navigating to a site and then show an ad for a competitor. Some unethical affiliates use pop-up advertising to drive conversions. In these instances, the adware opens up a pop-up window for the site that the user is already on but through an affiliate link. 

For example, if a user navigated to, the pop-up would show again but this time loading an affiliate cookie in the user’s browser. This sort of activity can occur at any point while a user is browsing a website, but it frequently occurs during the  checkout process.

These pop-ups might be obvious or hidden well. Below are some methods in which affiliates attempt to mask this activity: 

  • Opening a window off-screen
  • Opening a window so small it’s nearly impossible to see
  • Opening a duplicate window in the background with an affiliate tracking link

Countering Malware and Adware

Uncovering clear evidence of malware and adware can be quite challenging. The best approach for most organizations is to work with a third party that specializes in identifying malware. Another technique to counter malware is to maintain a high standard for affiliates you approve into your program.