Potentially Unwanted Programs

There is a class of programs that you probably don’t want on your computer but they often aren’t removed by antivirus or antimalware programs. We call these PUPs or Potentially Unwanted Programs. They can also be called adware, crapware, or junkware. These programs tend to get installed when you are installing or updating a legitimate program and often rely on you simply clicking OK as that program installs or updates. They are also all over the place when you want to download software or use some legitimate web services.

These programs range from toolbars that “enhance” your search to utilities that “speed up” your machine. Almost always these programs track your web traffic and serve up ads. These ads generate money for the developers and they pay big money to the legitimate firms to bundle their “optional” programs. Many of the calls we get about slow machines can be tracked back to these programs. Sometimes, we see machines with several of these, each competing with the others, to display their ads while you sit there and watch your browser slow down, stutter, or simply lock up.

Luckily, most of these can be avoided if you are careful and know what to look for when installing updates or software from the web. Here are some common ones and how you can avoid them!

Adobe is as good as they get. First, they bundle Chrome which is legit AND it’s obvious that you are getting it and how to avoid it if you want (uncheck the boxes).

This Java update will change your search engine to Yahoo if you don’t change the choice!

Speedtest is a popular website. However, the only button you should press is the Begin Test button. The others will install PUPs.

Let’s say that you want to install a free antivirus program on a home machine. Google points you to Download.com, a popular download site. There are 3 buttons here that all say Start Download. 2 of them will download Slimware Utilities to your machine but you have to carefully read the fine print to see that! Hint: The best place to download a program is from it’s home site. Many of the aggregators use installers that bundle PUPs.

So, why is this a bad thing? I guess that you could argue that some adware is not malicious and might even help users. Chrome certainly fits into that category and that’s why the antivirus programs don’t typically block it. On the other hand, there are many, many more that are designed to simply intercept your web traffic and serve you more ads. This is especially bad when you get several of them on your machine at the same time. They literally can start fighting over the connection while you sit and watch while nothing happens on the screen. If you see that behavior, then you should look for adware.

Another symptom of adware is simply more ads. I mean a LOT more ads. If you start seeing pop ups for products all over the place, then you might have adware on your machine. Some of them can even pop up ads when you are not even browsing the web! Some of the ads you see will even appear to be products that you desperately need right now. They offer to clean up your machine and solve your slowness issues. Some suggest that the problems are outdated drivers and you need to update those as soon as possible! Others blame it on a dirty registry that needs cleaning. A few even flash 800 numbers where a “certified technician” can fix your problems for just a few dollars. Almost all of these are more scams. Very few legitimate companies advertise this way. Be careful about what you click.

If you have gotten to this point, you need to clean your machine. For our contract customers that means to give us a call. If this is a home machine or you aren’t our customer, then you might want to take things into your own hands. There are a couple of things that you can do. First, you should go to your control panel and click on Uninstall a program. Sort by date and look for things that you never installed. This can be a good place to get rid of some of it. If you are unsure about a program, try Googling its name and see what it does.

We also use a product called Malwarebytes. You can download a free copy at http://www.Malwarebytes.org. All of the machines we service have the business version installed but you can download a free version from them as well. The free version doesn’t block any malware as it happens. That’s in the paid version. But, the free version uses the same methods to clean up any mess that’s already there. You can run it on an infected machine and it will do a good job of eliminating many of your problems. The Pro version is only about $25 for home use and I highly recommend it, especially if you have teenagers on your machine!

Hopefully, this will help you recognize the symptoms and help you avoid PUPs. If you start seeing popups or more ads than normal, give us a call and we will check it out for you.

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