Mac adware removal explained - here’s how to do it

Are you constantly plagued by ads when you use your Mac and use Safari to browse the web? Do you keep seeing adverts for MacKeeper and other products? Do you want to clean up your Mac and get rid of these ads? Then read on...

If adverts keep appearing on the screen, if tabs open and show adverts when you click links in web pages, if your search engine or home page has been hijacked and is showing another page, if you are seeing far too many adverts when browsing the web, you have an adware problem.

Adware is not a virus, Trojan, worm or any other type of malware. For this reason, antivirus software does not always prevent it from being installed. Nor does OS X prevent it from being installed and Safari has features that actually enable it to be installed. Adware takes advantage of certain features in OS X and Safari to present adverts. It is not malware, but it is certainly very irritating.

If you download and install software from the Apple Mac Store or directly from a software developer’s website, you will probably never see any adware and might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Adware is found on third party download sites and less reputable they are, the more likely the apps are to have adware hidden within them. Stop getting your apps from Pirate Bay! If you download an app from a dodgy source, don’t be too surprised if it has been repackaged and adware bundled with it. When you install the app, you also install the bundled adware, and that is when your problems begin.

Adware exists because people make money from adverts. They might earn a little money from each advert shown, each ad clicked, or receive commission on products purchased through the ads. Affiliate marketers are people that earn commissions on sales and some, but not all, will go to any lengths to display adverts and they don’t care how irritating they are.

This does not mean the products are bad and there are some good products that unfortunately have over enthusiastic advertisers and affiliate marketers. MacKeeper is a typical example. Lots of people complain about it, but actually the software is OK. Some advertisers and affiliate marketers use irritating ads, pop-ups, and adware to promote it.

In a previous article I looked at Bitdefender Adware Removal Tool for Mac. This is a good utility for non-technical users, but if you are interested in digging a little deeper and finding out where adware lurks and how to remove it, then read on.

Block adware in Safari

Safari has a great feature that allows it to be extended and extra features and functions can be added with a simple extension. Most extensions are useful, but a few are not and they can display adverts, pop-up windows, open new tabs, change the behaviour of menus and clicks on links, and modify the content in a web page. Adware uses, or should that be abuses, this facility, so the first place to look for adware is Safari extensions.

Open Safari, go to the Safari menu and select Preferences. (Don’t click the Extensions menu because that takes you to the Safari Extensions website.) Click the Extensions icon in the toolbar and anything that has been added to the browser is displayed in a list on the left.

Safari extension on the Apple Mac

Select each extension and a description appears on the right. Do you remember installing each of the extensions, or were some surreptitiously added without your knowledge? Perhaps they were bundled with apps downloaded from unreliable sources.

There is an Enable tick box that you can clear to prevent an extension from running, an Uninstall button to remove it, and a global OFF/ON switch at the top. Use them. I recommend uninstalling anything you can live without, you didn’t install on purpose, or whose purpose is unknown. On a clean install of OS X there are no Safari extensions and it works fine, so none are strictly necessary.

Go to the General tab and take a look at the Homepage URL. This should be set to the page you want to see when Safari is opened. If it is not, then change it. Enter the URL to use, such as, or whatever your favourite start page is.

Safari preferences on the Apple Mac

Chrome and Firefox add-ons and extensions

If you have other web browsers on the computer when adware is installed, extensions or add-ons can be added in the same way as with Safari. The menus are different, but the procedure for removing them is the same.

In Chrome for example, go to the menu, select More tools, Extensions. They are all listed and as with Safari there is a tick box to enable/disable them and a trash icon to uninstall them. Check each one and disable or remove any you can live without.

Go to the menu again and select Settings. In the On startup section, select Open a specific page or set of pages, and then click the Set pages link. If the wrong startup page is set or there are multiple startup pages, mouse over them and click the delete button, then enter the URL of the page you want to start with.

Firefox is similar, so I won’t go into detail, but you can view add-ons and enable/disable them, and uninstall them, then reset the startup page.

Clean up the disk

Removing the browser extensions is just the start of the clean-up process and there are a large number of files on the disk drive to clean up. The full list to remove can be found at the Apple website. I could list them all here, but the list is long and complicated and Apple’s explanation of how to manually clean up adware is pretty good. Go and read it.

There may be a shortcut and some adware programs come with an uninstaller. Now uninstallers are often not perfect, but they are worth trying and they can be a big help for non-technical users and they often remove most of the important files associated with an app.

Open the Applications folder and look for Uninstall Genieo, Uninstall IM Completer, and uninstallers for other apps like DownLite, VSearch, Conduit, Trovi, MyBrand, and Search Protect.

You will find apps for some or all of these adware programs in the Applications folder. If they are running, you may not be able to uninstall them, so open Activity Monitor in the Applications/Utilities folder, select the CPU tab and look for them. Select them and press Option+Command+Q to force-quit them. If they do not have uninstallers, then use AppCleaner, which can find all traces of apps and delete them.

Even after using an uninstaller or AppCleaner, I would still recommend working your way through the instructions at the Apple site.



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