Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) Threaten, Slow Your PC

Don’t get tricked into installing potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) on your computer: Internet Scambusters #681

Have you been bitten by a PUP — a potentially unwanted program?

Software organizations — from legitimate companies to out-and-out scammers — can easily trick you into installing these programs without realizing it, as we explain in this week’s issue.

We also have a warning about a “free gifts” pyramid scheme that’s currently sweeping social media websites.

Now, here we go…

Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) Threaten, Slow Your PC

Have you ever discovered a potentially unwanted program — PUP for short — running on your computer and wondered how the heck it got there?

It might not only be useless to you, it could also be spying on you, serving up adware or otherwise disrupting your computer usage.

One of the ways these pesky or downright dangerous programs get onto your PC is through “bundling.”

That happens when you install certain new software on your PC that comes “bundled” with other programs it adds at the same time without you necessarily noticing.

Some PC manufacturers also bundle unwanted programs that go under the name of “bloatware” and other less palatable terms on new machines.

Other times, you visit a free software-downloading site, only to be confronted by a host of buttons marked “Download.”

The aim is to trick you into clicking the wrong button so that, instead of the software you thought you were getting, you end up with a PUP on your PC.

Sometimes when you click the wrong Download button, several PUPs may be bundled and installed one after another.

Yet other times, sites may insist you install one program before they’ll give you access to the one you really want.

And on other occasions, clicking the wrong Download button can simply launch a pop-up or take you to an advertisement-saturated web page.

Even if you manage to get the program you wanted, you’ll often be bombarded afterwards by offers of other free programs you don’t want.

The sites that perpetrate these tricks aren’t necessarily breaking the law — but they are picking up a commission for placing third party software you don’t want on your computer.

There’s even specialist software that can be used by these mischief-makers to make it easy to bundle one program with another.

All of these behaviors are reminiscent of being bombarded by telesales calls. They drive us nuts and sometimes lead to trouble!

Plus, they’re often a major cause of slow running PCs.

Fortunately, there’s quite a lot you can do to avoid loading up with PUPs. Here are 5 key actions you can take:

1. Follow the custom route.

When you’re installing software, even purchased products from reputable companies, don’t click on the option that offers something like “express installation” usually followed by “recommended” in parentheses.

If you do select this, you’ll automatically install whatever the bundle includes.

Instead, choose “custom installation” (or similar), which, at least with reputable software, allows you to deselect any bundled software you don’t want.

If you’re not offered this option, read each screen after you click “next” and look out for bundled programs that may be checked by default for installation. Deselect anything you don’t want.

2. Beware of download sites.

Be doubly cautious whenever you decide you want to download software from free or trial sites, even when they come from reputable companies.

Chances are high that the most prominent “Download” button will not be the one you want.

Often, if you hover your mouse over the button it will reveal a link. If that link seems unconnected with the software you’re trying to get, don’t click it.

Instead, look for the button that has the name of the software you’re after next to it.

Whichever button you click, scrutinize the follow-up screen. If it’s not the program you want, don’t click anything but return to the original screen.

If you arrive at the correct screen, follow the instructions in #1 above.

By the way, if you’re searching to download a well-known piece of software — like Malwarebytes mentioned below — use the program producer’s own site rather than third party sites offering it.

Other sources could be “Download” button minefields!

3. Get rid of those PUPs

If you find you have unwanted programs running on your PC, whether they came with the machine or as part of a bundle, uninstall them.

If you don’t know how to do this, ask for help or search online.

Some PUPs are particularly difficult to get rid of. Again, search online using a term like “uninstall [name of program]” (inserting the name of the software).

In some cases, PUPs run as add-ons, such as special toolbars to your Internet browser. They may even change your browser home page.

These can usually be disabled or deleted in the “add-ons” section of your browser’s settings — but again, if you’re not sure how to access this, do an online search or ask a friend who is more technical than you.

4. Resist temptation!

Ignore ads on web pages, in emails or pop-ups offering you the opportunity for a “free scan” of your computer.

There are only two possible reasons why you got this offer:

  • The so-called scan program wants to install unwanted software onto your PC, possibly a virus, adware or spyware.
  • It’s a prelude to an attempt to sell you a paid program you probably don’t need.

5. Fight back!

Finally, good Internet security software will often alert you to attempts to install this type of software on your computer.

And even Windows will usually ask you if you want to install a particular program.

But if all else fails, consider using a program like Malwarebytes to identify and remove PUPs.

The free version of this program can be run at any time to check for and get rid of potentially unwanted programs.

The paid version runs in real-time — all the time your computer is switched on — monitoring for attempts to install PUPs.

However, be aware that the real-time version may clash with any other security software you have installed.

You can learn more about removing these unwanted programs at Ask Leo.

Follow these rules and you should stay relatively safe from potentially unwanted programs.

Alert of the Week

Social media websites are teaming with a scam program called the Secret Sister Gift Exchange.

Potential participants are told they’ll receive 36 gifts if they just send one $10 gift to a named person.

It’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme in which people at or near the top get lots of gifts and those lower down the pyramid — that’s you — get nothing.

Plus, it’s illegal. So don’t do it.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.