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What is a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP)?

by Cybergal | Last Updated | November 11, 2021
Cyber Dictionary|CyberSecurity - Consumer|CyberSecurity - SMB

Viruses are evolving every day. Their creators are often sophisticated businesses with big budgets and infrastructure and are smart enough to hide the viruses in your computer. If you have ever downloaded applications or programs, chances are you may have unknowingly cluttered your device with PUPs or potentially unwanted programs.

What is a PUP?

PUPs refer to programs, applications and other software downloaded onto computers or mobile devices that may have an adverse impact on user privacy or security. The term “potentially unwanted program” was coined by McAfee to distinguish the program from malware.

People call PUP by other names, such as adware, crapware, PUA (potentially unwanted application), bundleware and junkware. PUPs are usually bundled with legitimate programs with a EULA or End User License Agreement, a legal contract that is standard with a download. EULAs are lengthy documents and full of legalese. This is why people skip past them and go straight to the “I accept” button.

What is a PUP

Is a PUP different from malware?

PUP is different from malware in that malware arrives as a malicious software without the user’s permission. PUP comes with a EULA which requires users’ explicit permission or acceptance before it is downloaded to their computer.

Both PUP and malware are unwanted and may inflict similar harmful effects on computers. But Norton differentiates PUP from malware in this way. PUP includes spyware, adware and dialers that are loaded into legitimate programs that users choose and agree to download.

What are the identifying characteristics of a PUP

On the other hand, malware includes viruses, Trojans and worms that invade computers by tricking users into clicking links or installing programs that they should not. When the click or installation occurs, the malicious software executes code that may render a device inoperable, block files, applications or even the system itself or install applications that steal data. Users have no idea all these things are happening.      

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How do I know if my computer is infected with a PUP?

PUP intrusion can be triggered by user action, mostly by a click on a pop-up or link. The messages are mostly provocative but deceptive to dupe users into clicking on the pop-up or link. The pop-ups often say:

What PUPS can do to your computer-device

Other signs your device may have been infected are:

How to avoid PUPs?

Watch out for sketchy patterns

PUPs installations use sketchy and deceiving interfaces that are deliberately designed to trick people. A marketing email makes it difficult to find the unsubscribe button or a website whose customer service contact information is obfuscated is a sketchy pattern. Other patterns to look out for:

How to avoid PUPs

Carefully read the installation instructions when navigating the install wizard

PUPs are often intentionally hidden or obfuscated in the installation wizard dialogs of the downloaded piece of software. Their PUP designers recognize that most users tend to move quickly through the install wizard’s steps in order to quickly launch their intended program. This means users often ignore the steps or selected options that enable the installation of PUPs. 

To eliminate the installation of PUPs, you should:

Review the End User Licenses carefully

Sketchy software developers use End User License Agreements (EULAs) as a way to mitigate liability and effectively commit the end user to whatever rules they write. Often this means you are accepting the installation of PUPs. But they are full of legalese and so virtually everyone just accepts them and moves on. So blindly accepting these agreements puts the legal burden on the end user and not the software developer for any issues or consequences of the PUP. 

To avoid issue with PUPs:

Level up on security

The best protection against having PUPs installed on your device is to scrutinize any installation process and be vigilant when installing downloaded software. You can also assist yourself in this process by utilizing cybersecurity software designed to identify and protect against the installation of PUPs along with malware and other questionable software.  

You should consider the use of:

Ultimately, staying vigilant and critically reviewing any software you look to install, particularly any that are downloaded from the internet, will be your best protection.

How to remove a PUP

For PUPs that keep coming, do the following steps:

Step # 1 – Scan with antimalware software

This software will scan your device for Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, keyloggers, ransomware and PUPs. 

Step # 2 – Remove unnecessary programs

You will need to remove infected programs from your computer to eradicate the virus. Go to your Control Panel. Under the Programs section, you will see all the programs installed. Review all of them and click Uninstall on all untrusted or unwanted applications.

Step # 3 – Change all browser settings

Most PUPs and malware modify your browser settings by installing add-ons on them. Resetting your browsers will remove the modifications. Your browsers may include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge. There are helpful online tutorials on how to reset browsers. 

Step # 4 – Use a junkware removal tool

Junkware is not malware. They are programs that may have been pre-installed or accidentally installed on devices without malicious intent. What they can do is bloat your system by taking up space in your hard drive or memory.

A junkware removal tool scans your devices to look for unneeded programs. Once you get the list of the programs, use a cybersecurity tool from a trusted provider. Manually removing junkware is tricky so ask an IT expert for help.

After removing junkware, activate your cybersecurity software 24/7 to alert you of potential PUP and malware threats when downloading software online.

Step # 5 – Rescan browser settings

A PUP or malware changes browser settings. The removal tool removes the PUP or malware and fixes the browser settings. But when the sync option has been running during the removal process, the settings will reverse. To solve this issue: 

  1. choose Chrome Menu and click on Settings. 

PUP - Remove item 1

  1. Go to the People section and click on Sync or enter chrome://settings/syncSetup in a new tab. Disable all the options that appear. 

PUP - Remove item 2

  1. Scroll down and click Manage synced data on Google Dashboard. 

PUP - Remove item 3

  1. When a new tab opens, scroll down and click on RESET SYNC. All the synced data will disappear. 

PUP - Remove item 4

  1. Next rerun your antimalware scanner and remove any threats left. 
  2. Finally, restart your computer and enable the Sync.

PUP - Remove item 5

Step # 6 – Reboot your computer with a boot time scanner

A boot time scan detects hidden viruses such as those originating in Windows files. The boot time scan should be done before the operating system runs to stop the rogue viruses from being activated and doing any damage to your computer.

Viruses from PUPs and malware are unrelenting once they are inside your computer. The good news is that there are several tools from trusted cybersecurity providers to avoid or remove stubborn viruses. What you need is an antivirus or antimalware software that gets frequent updates – one that is one step ahead of the viruses.

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