What Is Greyware?

March 20, 2024

Greyware is software that falls into a grey area between legitimate software and malware. It includes a wide range of software types that can undermine system performance and compromise privacy, including adware, spyware, dialers, joke programs, or tracking cookies. Greyware is not designed to cause harm but can still be intrusive, potentially expose sensitive information, and disrupt system integrity.

Types of Greyware

There are many types of greyware that affect system performance.


Adware, or advertising-supported software, is a type of greyware that displays advertisements without the user’s explicit consent. These ads appear as pop-ups, banners, or unwanted redirections in web browsers. Their aim is to promote products and services, but they end up affecting user experience by slowing down devices, using up bandwidth, and cluttering screens.

Adware also poses significant security risks. It monitors user behavior, collects and shares personal information without the user’s consent, and compromises their privacy. In more concerning cases, adware serves as a gateway for malware, tricking users into clicking on ads that lead them to malicious websites or infected software.


Spyware is designed to monitor the unsuspecting user’s computer and collect information. It tracks personal data such as web browsing habits, keystrokes, user logins, and financial information. Spyware is used for advertising purposes, identity theft, or corporate espionage.

Spyware is combated with antivirus and anti-spyware software, regular system scans, and patching that protects against vulnerabilities. Educating users about safe browsing goes a long way, while strict access controls and network security policies serve as an additional layer of protection against spyware.

Browser Hijackers

Browser hijackers manipulate web browser settings without the user’s permission to redirect them to unwanted websites, change their default search engine, or alter the homepage to display ads and other sponsored content. Their goal is to generate ad revenue or increase the visibility of low-traffic sites.

To protect their systems against browser hijackers, users must pay attention when installing software by opting for custom installations and deselecting bundled software they do not need. Additionally, it is crucial to regularly patch for vulnerabilities and use reputable antivirus and anti-malware solutions.


Dialers were common during the use of dial-up internet connections. They secretly modified the dial-up settings of a computer to call premium-rate phone numbers without the user’s permission, which resulted in charges on the phone bill.

As mobile connections are prevalent today, dialer attacks are less common. However, they remain a concern to dial-up connection users, who are recommended to employ robust security measures, such as antivirus and anti-malware software, and to perform regular updates to protect the system from vulnerabilities.

Joke Programs

Joke programs aim to surprise, alarm, or amuse users by displaying unexpected messages, altering desktop icons, or simulating system failures. Joke programs are generally not intended to steal data, but they cause confusion, disrupt work environments, distract users, and cause unnecessary stress.

To prevent this, users should exercise caution when downloading and installing software from unknown sources. Regular system scans help detect and remove unwarranted applications and ensure a production work environment.

Tracking Cookies

Cookies are small pieces of data that monitor browsing activities and user preferences. They remember login details or shopping cart contents across multiple websites to enhance user experience. However, tracking cookies raise privacy concerns as they go beyond these functionalities to collect data across various websites for targeted advertising purposes.

To address these concerns, web browsers and regulatory bodies require users to adjust browser settings to block or limit cookies, install extensions to block trackers, or use private browsers. GDPR is an EU law that requires websites to obtain user consent before storing cookies, enhancing transparency and allowing users to opt out of them.

Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)

PUPs negatively impact user experience, privacy, and system performance. They are usually bundled with other software, so users install them without knowing. PUPs include toolbars, system optimizers, and adware that clutter the system, slow down performance, and display unwanted advertisements.

To protect their systems against PUPs, users must remain vigilant when installing software and deselect any additional software they do not need. Regular antivirus updates and system audits also go a long way in preventing damage from PUPs.


Riskware refers to legitimate software that contains vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit. Riskware includes remote access tools, file-sharing programs, and administrative utilities that could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

To mitigate these risks, users should implement strict security protocols and regularly monitor the software environment. This includes regularly patching software, employing security solutions that detect and block malicious activities, and configuring firewalls to prevent unauthorized access.

What Is Madware (Mobile Adware)?

Malware targets mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, by infiltrating them through free apps or mobile games. These applications are filled with excessive advertisements in the form of pop-ups, banners, or notifications that disrupt user experience and lead to diminished device performance. Madware poses a security risk as it reveals users’ locations, browsing history, and app usage without their knowledge.

Madware easily blends into legitimate mobile applications, making it difficult for users to identify and remove it. They impact mobile device functionality by consuming bandwidth and draining battery life. Users are advised to download apps from reputable sources, read app permissions carefully before installation, and use mobile security software that blocks unwanted adware.

How to Detect Greyware?

Detecting greyware requires a multi-faceted approach that combines the following principles:

  • Use antivirus and anti-malware software designed to detect wide range of greyware and ensure it is updated to the latest versions.
  • Monitor system performance to detect unusual system behavior, such as slowdowns, frequent crashes, or increased CPU usage, which might indicate the presence of greyware.
  • Check installed programs and extensions for unfamiliar or unexpected entries that could be greyware.
  • Observe ad and pop-up behavior to check for suspicious redirections or browser hijacker infections.
  • Review privacy settings and permissions to check for applications that require unnecessary permissions, which could mean they are greyware.
  • Analyze network traffic to detect unusual network activity or unexpected data transmissions.
  • Educate yourself and your staff about the latest types of greyware to enable easier detection and prevention of attacks.
  • Regularly update software to protect the system against vulnerabilities that could be exploited by greyware.

How to Protect Against Greyware?

Users and organizations prevent greyware attacks through education, awareness, and regular system updates.

It is essential to install antivirus and anti-malware software from reputable sources. During installation, carefully and thoroughly read the instructions and user agreements and unselect all programs in the software bundle you deem unnecessary. After installing, regularly update and patch software to prevent exploitation of vulnerabilities.

As an additional layer of security, employ firewalls that monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic and block suspicious activities. Regularly monitor system performance and behavior for unusual activity and adjust browser and mobile device settings to prevent malicious downloads, pop-ups, and browser redirects. Lastly, keep data backups off-site to ensure a swift return to normal operations in case of system failure.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.