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Updated by Christian Cawley on October 28th, 2016.

My Android device just suggested I buy a brand new Audi, displaying a full screen popup advertisement to persuade me.

As someone who prefers to keep all manner of promotional materials, social networks, and malware off his phone (I use OmniROM, featured previously 5 Reasons Why You Should Flash OmniROM To Your Android Device 5 Reasons Why You Should Flash OmniROM To Your Android Device With a bunch of custom ROM options out there, it can be hard to settle on just one -- but you should really consider OmniROM. Read More ), this came as something of a surprise, as you can imagine.

One of my apps is serving ads. But which one is the malware?

Ads On Android: The Good Old Days

There was a time when ads on Android were big news. Remember Notification Area ads? They caused a bit of a storm when it became apparent that promotional messages would soon start appearing across the top of your phone’s display, with AirPush and SlingLabs just two of the companies making it possible for ads to appear there.

To combat this, opting out was the best solution, although you might have preferred to follow our solution to dealing with these Notification Area incursions How to Block Notification Area Ads on Android Phones How to Block Notification Area Ads on Android Phones Have you ever seen an advertisement in Android’s notification area? Some apps abuse their notification permissions to display advertisements when you aren’t even using them. The good news is that you can determine which apps... Read More .

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With Notification Area ads (which can still impact users on older devices), it is straightforward to identify the app responsible thanks to its icon appearing next to the ad in Android 4.1 and later.

Full screen ads, on the other hand, are a little different.

How Do You Spot The Culprit App Serving Ads?

From time to time in the course of my work (for MakeUseOf and beyond), I end up with apps installed that I wouldn’t normally use. I’m more discerning than most; however, there is every chance that you’re using apps that are displaying ads that you’re putting up with, perhaps because you play a free game.

muo-android-adware-ad

This is fair enough, as long as the ads appear in the game.

But what if the ads are popping up on the home screen with no warning? Putting it plainly, this is malware, something that can take some work to trace.

As the Advertising without Compromising User Experience page of the online Android app development training program states:

When deciding where to place ads within your application, you should carefully consider user-experience. For example, you don’t want to fill the screen with multiple ads that will quite likely annoy your users. In fact, this practice is banned by some ad networks. Also, avoid placing ads too closely to UI controls to avoid inadvertent clicks.

The first thing you should do is close all of your apps. Use the usual method of tapping the Recents key and swiping each app to the side to discard (or using the Clear All button if your version of Android supports it Android Skins Explained: How Do Hardware Makers Change Stock Android? Android Skins Explained: How Do Hardware Makers Change Stock Android? Hardware makers like to take Android and morph it into something that is entirely their own, but is this a good or a bad thing? Take a look and compare these different Android skins. Read More ). You might also opt to restart your phone, which may be quicker.

muo-android-adware-play

Next, take a look at the apps you installed lately, around the time that the popups first appeared. This might take some doing if you’re a regular user of new apps. When you spot likely offenders, head to Google Play and check the reviews of the app. Do any relate to surprise ads? If so, delete that app. But don’t stop there! Check all the apps you have recently installed.

Check Notifications

Recent versions of Android have made it easier to find out what is running on your device and what permissions the app uses. When you spot a notification for an app that you didn’t realise was active, that’s a good time to long-press the notification and tap the i button.

muo-android-adware-permissions-rw

This will take you into the app’s permissions screen, where you can toggle what access it has to your phone’s hardware and features (such as contacts or the mobile network). From here, you’ll find full details for the app, which should reveal any associations; alternatively, you might find that the app isn’t quite what you thought it was.

Can’t Find The Offending App?

Perhaps the best option for anyone planning to use their phone or tablet without having to factory reset is to employ an anti-adware tool, a utility designed to detect ad-serving malware.

muo-android-adware-scan

AdWare is probably the best place to start, a free app that will detect connections to ad networks from within your apps. You will probably already know that some of the results display in-app ads. What you’re looking for is anything that displays an ad on your home screen. With this app, you can tap the information button to see what sort of ads are being displayed, and take action from within the app to remove the offending software.

If you’re not already using a full mobile security app The 3 Best Antivirus Apps To Protect Your Android Security The 3 Best Antivirus Apps To Protect Your Android Security As we’ve reported frequently at MakeUseOf, Android is no longer safe from malware. The number of threats is on the rise. This shouldn’t be surprise to anyone. Smartphones and tablets can carry all sorts of... Read More on your phone, then this is the best solution for dealing with the ads. Options here include ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Ad Network Detectors

You should also consider using an ad network detector. These apps are designed to detect connections between your phone and known ad networks, and block them. This should put an end to popup advertisements on your phone.

Several strong options are available, but we believe you should take a look at AppBrain Ad Detector and Lookout Security & Antivirus (previously Ad Network Detector). Addons Detector, meanwhile, gives you the information you need to investigate what ads are being displayed by which apps, as well as where they are served from. This might not be particularly useful, but it’s certainly worth being aware that the information is available.

Deleting The Ad-Serving Apps

Deleting an app is usually straightforward. Just open Settings > Applications and long-tap the app. Select Uninstall to remove it.

However, you might prefer a more extreme solution. The first would be to restore a backup of your phone What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? You need that backup at the ready. Read More taken before the evil ad-serving malware was installed.

muo-android-adware-factory-reset

Alternatively, you can initiate a factory restore Dealing with System Problems in Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups Dealing with System Problems in Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups If you've run into a problem on your Android phone or tablet, this method just might help you save it. Read More to remove all apps and data from your phone, wiping it and starting from scratch. This might be the preferred option for most, especially if you’re particularly concerned by the ads that are being served.

Finally, consider installing an alternative ROM How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device Android is super customizable, but to fully take advantage of that, you need to flash a custom ROM. Here's how to do that. Read More . If you’re going to factory reset, now is as good a time as any to look at different flavors of Android for your smartphone or tablet.

Have You Had Ad-Serving Android Malware?

Popup ads on your Android device are annoying. They use your data allowance (though you may decide to only use Wi-Fi Save Money On Your Smartphone Bill: Cut The Mobile Internet Save Money On Your Smartphone Bill: Cut The Mobile Internet How much are you paying for calls and mobile Internet? Is your iPhone really worth that type of outlay? Do you use your Android tablet enough to justify paying over $50 a month? Read More ) and get in the way when you’re trying to use your phone.

Put simply, popup ad malware on Android is an affront, and you shouldn’t stand for it. Take action!

Let us know what Android ad malware you’ve had, which apps you suspect of supplying it, and what solution you used to remove it.

  1. someguy
    October 21, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I found a solution that actually works
    1- download Malwarebytes
    2- perform a full scan
    3- uninstall detected apps

  2. Devendra Singh Rawat
    October 7, 2016 at 6:58 am

    ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus

    Oh. it was Hiddak.AK Trojan on my android phone… that was causing full screen ad on home screen, whenever WiFi or Data connection was opened or whenever an new app was installed or uninstalled and installing new apps randomly without asking..

    ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus was able to detect it by using Deep Scanning option..

    It was hidden under the Service “ Android Communication Sync” .. watch out for this process in your phone

  3. Vicky
    September 26, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    I have ads popping at the touch of the screen button by the browser. The browser opens by it self as soon as the phone screen turns on. Also the other is the Android Download Manager. It always open by it self with an ad. Also when I go to update apps there are apps asking to update when they are not even installed. I was fooled by one of this and I installed a browser that I didn't even know about it when I pressed the installed all button. I uninstalled the two apps I think was the problem. Hard reseted the phone and the problem is back. I believe the malware is in the dowload manager. I go to download manager and press the clear data and the ads stops for a few days. Then they are back. And the annoying part is that if I don't pay attention when I click I would click the ads cause pops up so fast that in a second I'm reading unwanted advertisement. I contacted the place I bought the phone. They didn't answered me. I really like this phone. Is a Lenovo and it is my first time with an Android phone. I have used Windows phone for years and all my family kept telling me to get an android phone because is faster and I agree but I can't continue with this ad problem. To me is a bad experience that I would like to erase so I can give a fare review of my first time using an android phone. If anybody can help I would be deeply grateful.

    • Bloodbeast
      November 30, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Same with me :(

    • Bloodbeast
      November 30, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Same

  4. Lathe of Heaven
    September 18, 2016 at 4:26 am

    I already have AVAST and the same ads continue to appear frequently on my home screen.

    Just so you know... (as per your comment above)

  5. Lathe of Heaven
    September 18, 2016 at 4:24 am

    I already have AVAST and the same ads still appear on my home screen.

    Just so you know, as per your comment above about Adware (if you don't have AVAST you mentioned...)

  6. Jaime valdes
    September 6, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    I am getting sales ads when I use the native dialer or exDialer. The pop up after you hang up.
    I removed exDialer and issue continues with native.
    It's sales add for numerous products, nothing specific. This started about 1 mo. ago.
    I don't see any apps that I dont recognize

  7. Sebastian FS
    July 22, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    THANKS!!! Wow, you really saved my ass man. thanks

    • Christian Cawley
      July 22, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Happy to help!

  8. BlazePlayz
    June 10, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Eset said I have AdDisplay.Timdeser.C but when I press remove threat it closes eset. Every time I turn on my kindle fire I get some stupid ad appear. Pls help!

    • Christian Cawley
      June 10, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      This isn't really the area for direct help, but would suggest launching your Fire in safe mode and then running Eset again.

    • Ariel carlos
      August 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Kindle fire Normally have ads on its part of the device for Amazon you can have it removed call amazon customer service they will remove it for you with a fee.

  9. Akeno
    February 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    If you experience any ads and traced which app it is, consider using a VPN dedicated to blocking certain apps from using WiFi/mobile data. I like Opera Max, it's a bit of work to set up, and app updates don't get pushed to the rules within automatically (take a look at the rules every now and then), but when it's blocking an app to use data, it really does the job well. I paid for prime versions, but free apps can be ad-free this way.

  10. Krish
    January 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    With ES File Explorer, browse your **Downloaded Apps**. If you see any app that begins with System or is represented by the Android symbol, uninstall it. This was how I solved my problem. Using Android's Settings - 'System' -> 'Apps', I could see only an 'Uninstall updates' for the rogue app (it gave a warning that doing so will stop some system functions!). Hence I had to use ES to compltely uninstall it. Hope this helps someone.

    • Akeno
      February 23, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      ES on itself you should block from using any data. Even the paid version (which I have, I like the app on its own) connects to the Internet for the first 5 seconds you fire up the app. I couldn't trace where it's going to, but when you're not using FTP with this app, it's not necessary to give it any network access.

      • Christian Cawley
        February 23, 2016 at 6:56 pm

        I've just abandoned ES for this very reason, and would encourage other users to follow suit.

  11. mn
    January 25, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks for the tips....Had loads of popups and not downloaded apps! I have tried everything for many months including apps, settings and reset etc. I bought a Chinese smartphone with latest android operating system. The solution was to look at all the apps. Sitting amongst them was two play store apps. One had an official icon and the other had a folder. I deleted the folder one. Hey presto all ad free now! Looks like they hid ads app to generate revenue. Check out your APS very closely m

  12. Aneesh
    January 14, 2016 at 6:01 am

    There is another easy way:

    http://www.hellosystemadmin.com/default/how-to-identify-which-android-app-shows-full-screen-google-adds/

    Step1: Wait for the add to appear on the home screen

    Step2: As soon as add comes, do not cancel it. Just use the other key so that this will be minimized. Now check the recent application button and you can see all recent application including the Google adds as a thumb view. If you carefully check the add you can see the name of the App just left the the Add.

    Step3: Decide you want to keep that application and enjoy adds or Uninstall it. In my case the app was App lock

    • BlazePlayz
      June 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

      I tried this and it just doesn't say any name.

  13. Tracy
    November 23, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    I believe the AliExpress app caused ad pop-ups on my homescreen. I uninstalled it and all seems to be well so far.

  14. person
    May 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Also, having experienced this myself, i find a solution is to check the data usage in your settings menu. See what apps that youre not using that are using data. Limit it to a time period when you know what apps youve used. Widgets and notifications and such will use some data so keep that in mind.

    • Christian Cawley
      May 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Good suggestion Person, although limited to later versions of Android.

  15. Tracy
    April 30, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Catherine, I have had the same problem! Avast hasn't turned up anything, nor has TrustGo's Ad Detector.

  16. Catherine
    April 30, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I have started getting full-page pop-up ads on my home page or on top of various applications, just over the past few days. I also get banner ads at the top or bottom of different aps but I don't really mind that. It's the new pop-ups, some of which are clearly malware, that is annoying and worrying. I haven't downloaded any aps that recently, that might correlate with the new ads. I have used Wi-Fi at some public places, could that be the source of the problem? I also scanned my device with Avast yesterday and nothing came up. I will try AdWare and see if that helps. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  17. ck
    April 23, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    that's what's important -- screenshots (lab data) and not failure in the field

    you should spend more time polishing your shades so you don't clutter things up on the internet

    about which, if you think my post was a "rant", you are clearly submerged deeply in naivete and rookie-ness

    saying run the standard progs and delete suspect/all your apps then start over is unhelpful. places like makeuseof are for fixes not universally known for years, and what to do once those fixes have failed

    facts are facts and you're unaware of them

    • Christian Cawley
      April 27, 2015 at 6:39 pm

      So you think someone just comes along and posts a random article on MakeUseOf and it gets published? No, it doesn't work like that.

      If your comment, such as it was, was not a rant, then do tell me how it added to the conversation. From where I'm sitting, it was "air". We're all dying to know what your solution is to this problem, beyond the reset that you suggest (and I mentioned several times in the article, which was approved and edited by a section editor).

  18. ck
    April 20, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I'm a fan of makeuseof. this article is garbage. so your insightful program is "see if you can find the culprit app the remove it"? thank god for that depth of expertise

    I have a persistent popup have tried lookout adware and malwarebytes ad they turn up nada

    apparently the only fix is reset and your article adds air to the topic

    • Christian Cawley
      April 23, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      The screenshots prove otherwise, but don't let facts get in the way of your ranting.

  19. shhhhhhhh
    March 1, 2015 at 6:20 am

    REALLY GOOD IT HELPED ME ADMIN!

  20. hfyigg
    January 12, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    Why on earth would you suggest a factory reset over trying Adware first?

  21. Sofia
    October 15, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Adtomatik is also an ad network. I've been using it for a year and the result couldn't be better. The best service. I totally recommend it.

  22. likefunbutnot
    October 14, 2014 at 12:01 am

    I've found Addons Detector quite helpful for showing which applications tie to which specific ad networks. I've never encountered an Android Virus, though I have seen programs that use non-Google advertising services that do include pop-over ads. Addons Detector is very helpful for identifying which applications might have brought an uninvited guest.

    For the most part, I think Android security applications do more harm than good. They waste battery power and relatively few users have habits that will lend themselves to the sorts of security threats they're supposedly being guarded from. They might be more helpful for someone with a device that primary gets apps from outside the Google or Amazon app stores or for a person that just installs software with absolutely no consideration, but those things describe a tiny fraction of the Android userbase.

  23. Hildy J
    October 13, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Lookout's free Ad Network Detector, in addition to showing you the ad networks your apps connect to, will show you which apps can display ads as notifications as well as other more insidious things. It's an on demand scanner but it's quick to run.

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