Everyone has had a PC that was starting to get a bit slow, or a friend with a PC that has been rendered practically unusable because of malware, firmware, spyware, viruses or worms. A computer that is running slowly because of unsolicited programs can be a real headache, and for that reason, knowing how to stop these ‘Potentially Unwanted Programs’ or PUPs (as they are popularly referred to) from getting on to your computer in the first place is a great idea, and a real win when it comes to keeping your computer in good health.
The term PUP was introduced by McAfee because of the way in which the spyware often sneaks onto your computer in a legitimate way, usually in the contract for a piece of software that you do want. When you download a program there are often a few tick boxes in the agreement that (if you had bothered to read the agreement you would have noticed) need to be deselected. When you don’t deselect these, you agree to ‘bundled’ software installations that you don’t realize you are getting, and because these programs are legitimate, and you have agreed to install them, marketing firms object to their being referred to as malware.
A common way that these programs sneak in through the back door is through download portals. Sometimes, when you go to file sharing sites to get a file that you need, there is a bright green button that says ‘Download’. Unfortunately, this is likely not the program that you came for, as more often than not the big green button links to a piece of malware or spyware (a PUP) pretending to be the software that you want.
When an unsuspecting surfer gets to the page, their cursor is naturally drawn to the download button instead of where the link to the file actually is on the page (usually looking much less exciting). Rule number one in your battle against PUPs, then, is to look carefully, and not be drawn in by bright flashy buttons: temptation is your first deadly sin when it comes to PUPs!
Of course, if it is not clear where exactly on the page you should be downloading the file from, the best thing to do is to look at the file names of the available downloads on the page. The correct software will inevitably come from the correct software designer, and have the correct file name – if it doesn’t have the proper executable name then simply don’t press ‘download’.
Remember that these programs are prolific, and are trying to get onto your PC from every possible angle. A good antivirus and anti-malware program is therefore essential if you are going to stay on top of the problem. When it comes to PUPs, not having good self defense is your second deadly sin, so make sure your PC has been practicing its Kung fu.
Beware however, that some PUPs come disguised as fake virus warnings, and that these can be quite confusing. If you are therefore in any doubt at all about a warning, take the time to investigate it thoroughly, making absolutely sure that it comes from your legitimate antivirus software. If you are still unsure, do not click ‘ok’! Reboot your computer, and run your antivirus software.
Another way that marketing companies get their Trojan horses on to your PC is through fake software updates. Marketing companies make hundreds of fake internet pages that look similar to the ones you might be looking for, and when you click on these pages fake software updates pop up offering you valuable user friendly additions to software you own. Sometimes these might even appear as warnings telling you that you require protection against malware, and that you should download the helpful software at once. These, however, are lies and are simply cunning ways of fooling internet traffic into downloading PUPs.
The answer is to be assertive, click decline, read through agreements, and check for bundled software. Remember, if a piece of software is asking you to do an ‘express installation’ it is probably coercing you into agreeing to a PUP, so do the full set up and un-click any check boxes for software that you aren’t interested in. Otherwise you will end up with programs like Shopping Aid, NewTab or Ebay Shopping Assistant, and might even have your default browser or homepage changed – often in a way that makes it tough to set it back to your preferred one.
Ignorance then completes the trinity of deadly sins in your fight against PUPs. Deny ignorance… pay attention to what you are installing, read through agreements, and don’t take shortcuts or go for ‘express installations’, and you should stand a good chance of resisting the modern Plague.