Likewise, again, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve installed a tempting looking free download and then boom! - my computer is running like it’s 1000 years old. And you know why? Because I’ve inadvertently also downloaded a program which is now monitoring my every online move.
Scary stuff indeed so say hello to PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) and adware – the internet software that has been designed to not only be irritating but that can be downright dangerous too.
What are PUP and Adware?
PUP is sneaky and very often it weasels its way onto your PC without your knowledge or your consent. Usually, PUPs come bundled with popular software downloads and freeware. Examples of PUP can be toolbars, custom search engine providers and other add-ons. When you’re online it will run in the background surreptitiously spying on you and gathering data about your internet browsing habits.
Whilst PUPs are annoying and sometimes difficult to get rid of, adware is slightly different and slightly less menacing. Adware’s main purpose is to display adverts in the form of pop-up windows and banners, on your computer. Whilst some of these ads are genuinely advertising real products, many of them will include links to websites. Websites you probably don’t want to visit in the first place.
Like PUP, a lot of adware tracks which sites you are visiting and then relays that information back to its creator so that they can send you more dedicated advertising. It’s fair to say that whilst some people don't mind this practice others find it highly intrusive.
The biggest thing to bear in mind about PUP and adware is thinking whether or not you wish to have that type of program operating on your PC. Really it all comes down to how you feel about online privacy and security. Or whether you can be bothered to have to close pop-up adverts every few seconds! If you don’t like it and you don’t want it it falls into the category of unwanted software – and you need to know how to prevent and get rid of it.
Getting Rid of PUP and Adware
It doesn’t matter whether adware is slowing your computer down or leaving you vulnerable to attack by identity fraudsters; adware is not called malware for nothing. The reason that your PC will be running so slowly if you’ve downloaded one of these programs is because PUP and adware are using up your system’s resources because they are constantly sending data to their servers.
As I said, in the majority of cases PUP and adware is bundled with other programs – such as freeware - that you’ve downloaded and whilst it is fair to say that there is often some acknowledgment of their existence in the software's licensing agreement it is usually hidden within reams of complicated (and boring) wording – which means that most of us don't read it. The thing is that whilst some people see it as a fair deal: I get free software but I also have to put up with being spied upon – a lot more people object to it.
This isn’t the only way that malware finds its way onto your computer as simply browsing the web can do it too. A lot of the time just clicking on a fake dialog box or pop up window is enough to end up with you having PUPe or adware downloaded onto your PC. And of course these boxes and windows will make it as hard as possible for you to refuse with so-called urgent messages or offers that you can’t refuse. Many of the windows will usually give you the option of clicking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ however simply clicking the window – whichever you choose - will end in malware being downloaded onto your machine. The rule: close the window using the little red ‘x’.
Preventing PUP and Adware
First and the most important thing to do is install reputable PUP and Adware protection software. Unfortunately, most PUPs are not detected even by the most popular anti-virus programs. The reason is simple, PUP is not technically malware. But it's potentially dangerous and annoying. Adware detection ratio is also low, however, better than PUP. Thankfully, there are programs that fill in this gap, for example Spybot, Malwarebytes and SUPERAntispyware.
Often, being the victim of a malware attack can be our own fault. The things to look out for include:
- Watch what you’re downloading – think to yourself whether you really need that software or program before you click ‘ok’. Check the name of the programmer and use a search engine to do some research if you’ve never heard of them or their technology.
- Whilst ActiveX is fine when a reputable site uses it, it is also highly prized by hackers as a means for installing spyware without you knowing about it. To be on the safe side turn it off in your browser preferences. If you need to turn it on when visiting a site you trust you can do so easily.
- It might be tedious but read those freeware licensing agreements carefully and check the wording for anything that suggests that data capturing might be involved.
- Don’t fall victim to anti-spyware scams – they’re all over the web and despite disguising themselves as genuine security software they will either do nothing to protect your computer – or in some cases will install even more malware on it. You can usually tell if one is rogue because they will offer to run a free scan on your PC – and of course they’ll find loads of problems. And then ask you to buy their software.
- Don’t click on adverts. They might look colorful and flashy but these should be a red flag to a bull and you will be highly likely to end up being monitored by someone.