Adware is now by far the most dominant form of mobile malware and is still on the rise, according to research published today by cybersecurity company Avast.

Mobile malware, malicious software found on smartphones, has been a growing problem for some time, but adware – software that spams users with unwanted ads – leads the way.

According to research by Avast’s Threat Lab, adware now accounts for 72% of all mobile malware.

It has also grown significantly in the last year, growing its share of mobile malware on Android smartphones by 38%.

“We’ve been tracking this issue for a number of years and the increased use of mobile devices is likely fueling its growth,” said Nikolaos Chrysaidos, head of mobile threat intelligence & security at Avast.

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Other types of mobile malware, which account for the remaining 28%, include banking trojans, downloaders, lockers and fake apps.

The types of mobile adware

Adware most commonly gets onto users’ phones through apps in popular and trending categories, including entertainment and gaming.

They appear completely harmless, but once installed will behave in one of two ways, both of which are annoying, and can also be highly malicious.

The more benign type is adware apps, which are apps that spam users with adverts after they’ve been installed.

These are a pain to deal with, as the ads can appear outside the app itself, making it very hard to find the cause. However, they are not particularly harmful beyond this.

The more nasty type takes the form of ad-fraud and ad-clicker adware. Here apps will seem fine, but surreptitiously download executable files and run malicious activities in the background on a user’s phone.

Such activities include clicking on ads without a user knowing, which enables cybercriminals to profit off ad clicks, or in some cases even subscribe users to premium services that they are then unwittingly paying for.

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“No one likes getting served with incessant ads; they’re often unwanted and can ruin our enjoyment of an app,” said Chrysaidos.

“They could also pose a threat to users as cybercriminals can use them as a backdoor to a device – whether it’s to make money from advertisers or steal your personal information.”

Avoiding mobile adware

In order to avoid being hit by mobile adware, users are advised to only ever use official app stores such as Google Play, and read the reviews of any app before deciding to download it.

It is also important to check the permissions an app is requesting carefully, to ensure an app isn’t being given permission to install additional malicious files and executables.

Users also are advised to look into reliable antivirus products for their phones, and keep a close eye on their bank statements for unexpected subscription charges.

Read more: Over a billion Android smartphones exposed to SMS phishing attacks