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Potentially Unwanted Program: Definition, Harms, Detection, and Prevention

A PUP, or potentially unwanted program, is frequently installed on a computer along with other software. A PUP typically changes browser settings or presents unwanted advertisements as a marketing technique. A PUP often takes the form of adware. Potentially unwanted programs are referred to as PUP. The program does not infiltrate your computer through security flaws or hacker attacks like Trojans, worms, spyware, or ransomware. The installation often occurs with the user's permission. Most PUPs don't bring any value to the user's experience, and just a few of the additional partner programs that are installed are used by the user.

The most visible signs of PUPs are intrusive advertising or unwanted site tracking, as well as the fact that they cannot be easily uninstalled after download. PUPs might just be bloatware or other trash files. However, they might also contain malware or adware in disguise, which would risk your computer's security. While some PUPs may be helpful, the majority are not.

This article discusses all elements of potentially unwanted programs, such as what they are, what they do, the harm they do, and if there are any advantages. Additionally, PUP samples and advice for avoiding the ostensibly hazardous software will be provided. Lastly, the process for finding and eliminating PUPs will be covered.

What is a Potentially Unwanted Program?

A potentially unwanted program (PUP) is software that is unwanted, even if users might have given their consent to download it. PUPs, which include malware, adware, and dialers, are frequently downloaded together with programs that the user specifically desires. In addition to being annoying at best and a security concern at worst, PUPs can have a significant impact on a computer's performance.

PUPs are often included with free software. A download warning may occur while installing a genuine piece of software, requesting that the user read the terms and conditions and click a box to proceed with the download. Another window can offer users the opportunity to install more undesirable software. It's possible that the box has already been selected, and the opt-out alternatives may be intentionally vague. Without paying close attention, the user may consent to the download of unwanted and perhaps harmful software if they go through this process. When the original, requested software is installed, these apps then download and set up themselves.

These are programs that don't benefit users in any way. For instance, "potentially unwanted programs" are browser toolbars that clutter up users' browsers, track web traffic, and display extra advertisements to users.

It's good to be aware that these apps have no positive effects on computers; on the contrary, they cause them to run slowly, track and clog up the system, and display more ads.

How does the Potentially Unwanted Program Work?

Potentially unwanted programs frequently come pre-installed with free software or are downloaded and set up by themselves when a legal free software bundle is installed. These unwanted programs are not classified as malware since PUPs come with an End User License Agreement (EULA) that controls the bundled software. These unwanted programs might take the form of malware, adware, browser hijackers, toolbars, or even browser hijackers.

Even though PUPs are mostly safe, they can still make using the computer hard, slow it down, and annoy the user. Thus, users should constantly be informed of which partner programs are being downloaded while installing any computer. Users might easily miss the small print and accept extra applications if the user rapidly clicks through an installation.

Because a PUP isn't technically a dangerous application, it frequently not be stopped by antivirus software from installation. Because the PUP is not meant to harm the computer, it is not malware. Because of this, a PUP is not as harmful as a virus or a Trojan horse, but users should still take precautions to prevent accidental PUP installation. What for? A few instances of what PUPs do to your computer are as follows:

  • Slow down your computer once it has been downloaded
  • Show aggressive advertisements
  • Launch pop-up and pop-under windows
  • Take over your browser
  • Watch what you do online
  • Insert useless browser toolbars
  • Change the search results
  • Steal your data

Few negative consequence of a PUP will be examined in detail:

  • Manipulating the Browser
  • Showing More Advertising
  • Containing Spyware
  • Installing More Unwanted Programs

Manipulating the Browser

Potentially unwanted programs can delay or entirely change a user's browsing activities and history. This is done in a variety of ways, including manipulating search results, redirecting websites, banning competitor websites, and taking over users' home pages. Users may face serious risks from these actions since they may potentially allow other viruses to enter the machine. Additionally, user information may be taken, and the resulting manipulation might make for a terrible browsing experience. The PUP known as browser hijackers often perform this function. Users can install reliable anti-malware tools to stop browser manipulation. All incoming data will be scanned by this software, which also guards against malware installation and PC infection. Antimalware software can guard against ransomware attacks, as well as identify and stop sophisticated malware on a user's PC.

Showing More Advertising

PUPs frequently display various kinds of ads, which interfere with the user's browsing activity. These advertisements include pop-up advertisements, in-line advertisements, and toolbars on browsers that offer products for sale. Additionally, there may be pop-under windows and other types of advertisements that interrupt the web page's content.

Advanced and irritating advertisements can be used as a prompt to install malicious software or to steal users' essential information. A malicious ad can be recognized and understood in several different ways. The simplest and most noticeable are pop-ups that appear unexpectedly on a computer. False alerts could also be delivered. An illustration might be, "This system doesn't have enough space, CLICK HERE to..." or "Your system is infected, CLICK HERE to..." Such advertisements might even take the form of phony notifications that an app, program, or operating system is out of date.

Ad blockers are a specific type of anti-malware application that may be used to stop this. Although there are free services available, the paid ones are often more effective and dependable.

Containing Spyware

Spyware comes in a variety of forms, including keyloggers, banking trojans, information thieves, mobile spyware, cookie trackers, sound and video capturing spyware, and password stealers. Spyware is a type of PUP that is sometimes unintentionally downloaded alongside other files or applications. A class of software known as spyware gathers user data and transmits it to a third party. Usually, this information is misused for malicious reasons, which harms the user.

Due to the possibility of sensitive personal information being stolen and used fraudulently, this poses a serious risk to the user. Through phishing, whereby visiting a link can trigger the automated download of a spy program, spyware can be transmitted. Spyware may also take many other forms, including video games, download managers, beneficial applications, registry cleaners, and more.

There are numerous methods for avoiding spyware and PUPs. One of the things users should do is make sure their mobile devices and systems have screen locks and passwords, as well as updated software and systems. Limit administrator access on phones and avoid using insecure Wi-Fi. Also, avoid rooting Android phones or jailbreaking iPhones. The installation of anti-spyware software can help stop PUPs that contain spyware from invading.

Installing More Unwanted Programs

PUPs can potentially trigger the installation of other PUPs. Due to the increased likelihood of adware, malware, spyware, and other viral attacks, the user faces a compounded risk. There are no established guidelines for identifying PUPs that have been added by other PUPs. When a system has strange software and apps, or programs that were not installed by the owner, a PUP is probably present. Users should be on the lookout for strange applications and apps on their PC.

What are the Types of Potentially Unwanted Programs?

The primary categories of PUPs are as follows:

  • Adware: The most common type of PUP is advertising software, commonly known as adware. Toolbars, often known as button bars, are the most well-known example. Most users have possibly, at some point, added a toolbar to their browser. Generally speaking, this occurs accidentally since toolbars are rarely utilized. Almost generally, they are installed on a PC along with other free programs. Adware is, in many ways, the least harmful sort of PUP because its primary goal is to overload a computer with advertising through pop-ups or bars. The advertisement is quite irritating. If the end user clicks on the advertisements, things might get riskier. These clicks can launch websites, add more PUPs, or induce you to buy items that will never arrive because the advertisement was fraudulent. Other than toolbars, PUPs might appear to be beneficial. The majority of them are applications that verify the system. They perform this to identify minor system flaws and release temporary files for deletion. However, to do the optimization, the user often has to upgrade to a premium package first. Although this method is legal, it is highly dubious and, most of all, irritating. The program may be removed right away if you decide you do not want to utilize the premium edition of the product since it has no benefit for you.
  • Spyware: Spyware operates covertly to collect personal data and seize the computer's browser history. Users can get sensitive information about another person through spyware, which then transmits that information to a different party. Since spyware may lead to identity theft, fraud, the erasure of fraud or illegal activity, and slow computer performance, this action often has negative effects on the user. Spyware isn't necessarily harmful or risky, though. Some have simply been employed for advertising. Spyware collects and stores user information to make it work. Then, this data may be sold and utilized to display pop-up advertising or even keep track of the user's activity. Rootkits, web beacons, phone homes, and keyloggers are a few types of spyware. Both advertisers and hackers will find this content quite valuable.
  • Browser hijacker: A browser hijacker is malicious software that changes the settings, looks, and behavior of a browser without the user's knowledge. This harmful software is typically used by fraudsters and online criminals to carry out activities like boosting website traffic and advertising income while also obtaining the user's personal information. A user's default search engine could be changed by a hacked browser to one with plenty of advertising. A browser that has been taken over might also lead a user's search to unsavory websites. More dangerous locations, such as malware, adware, and other browser hijackers, might be reached through these redirects. The most common method of hijacking a browser is to replace the default home page or other websites with the hijacker's page. As a result, users are forcibly steered to advertising pages, increasing traffic to the hijackers' websites and generating more income for them.

Is a Potentially Unwanted Program Harmful?

A PUP may be easily made and distributed through free channels, which attracts those engaged in nefarious actions. PUPs are, in reality, a remarkably quick and essentially cost-free method of dissemination. There are many PUPs out there; some are helpful, offering free alternatives to expensive software packages, while others are frauds that are not what they claim to be. PUPs are harmful because they may be manually updated. As a result, PUPs are subject to misuse in a supply chain assault since the majority of the program's hosting servers and infrastructure are unprotected and exposed. In addition, PUPs can conceal themselves behind adware, malware, and bundled signatures, which can present major risks including the introduction of a virus into a system and privacy breaches, among others.

PUPs perform a broad range of beneficial tasks, including those of converters, utilities, toolbars, cleaners, and driver management programs (browser assistants). PUPs pose two main security risks:

  • PUPs are capable of updating, generally automatically. As a result, they are vulnerable to supply chain attacks since, for the most part, their infrastructure and hosting servers are undeveloped and poorly maintained.
  • PUPs may avoid detection by PUP, Adware, or Bundled signs, but they sometimes have the potential to do genuine harm.

Should I Remove Potentially Unwanted Programs?

Yes, potentially unwanted programs need to be deleted immediately. In addition, precautions to prevent another invasion should be taken. PUPs are often an irritation rather than helpful to systems in any manner. PUPs can cause system slowdowns, increase the frequency of intrusive ad pop-ups, breach users' data, and generally put a user's system in danger of security. PUPs like spyware and adware can collect a user's data from a website. The user might potentially face even greater loss as a result of further fraudulent uses of this information.

What are the Tips to Prevent Potentially Unwanted Programs?

By doing a few simple actions and following a few basic guidelines, the risk of downloading a PUP can be completely avoided:

  • Download the file straight from the source: The process of downloading straight from the provider entails downloading the files or software from their web pages. Downloading through a third-party app typically allows PUPs to spread. The PUP buttons often have a significantly smaller cancel icon and are larger than the original download buttons in most cases. This tactic aims to trick the user into accidentally clicking the button that permits the download of PUPs. In some cases, users aren't even able to identify the virus; they just download it into their system. So, to prevent installing PUPs, PUAs, and similar programs, downloads should only be made directly from the developers of the app or software. Always keep an eye out for a supplier's original link and click on it to download straight from them. Affiliate links have to be disregarded.
  • Utilize an antivirus program: A computer viruses are found and removed using antivirus software. The software is similar to a police officer, except that antivirus software captures and imprisons viruses. A user's system is protected by an antivirus from PUPs and other forms of malware. Malware, adware, spyware, and other types of viruses are all instantly recognized when an antivirus is installed on the user's computer. An antivirus is a good tool for fighting viruses. The program is typically packaged with other helpful programs or applications and has proven to be undetected. To stop PUPs, antivirus software is crucial. Before a malware attack reaches the user's machine, antivirus software detects its presence and removes it. Free antivirus software is widely accessible for download. The premium edition of any selected antivirus is an option for those who want to upgrade their subscription or receive better services. This provides almost complete protection.
  • Slowly install the software: Another technique to stop PUPs from downloading into a user's system is to carefully follow installation guidelines. Malware like PUPs may often be unchecked during the installation process and is excluded from the deployment. "Custom installation" is the term referring to this function. The procedure enables the user to review all of the files that are part of the bundle and prevent the installation of any dangerous items. This implies that to recognize the virus in the downloaded files, a user must be familiar with PUPs.
  • Stay away from suspicious websites: Similar to installing directly from the producer is this. Direct providers of programs and software typically work to simplify the user's downloading process and get rid of all unwanted PUPs. Other third-party websites, on the other hand, typically have other purposes besides the files or programs that are made accessible for download. In most cases, these goals are not required by the user and end up endangering both the user and the system in use. Additionally, these "suspicious sites" may act as a breeding ground for other PUPs that are readily available. By unintentionally visiting the sites, users run the risk of installing one of these malicious programs on their computers. Additionally, hackers might utilize the websites to collect user data for other fraudulent purposes. Therefore, it is advised that users avoid visiting any suspicious websites.
  • Install an adblocker: Ad blockers are software applications that prohibit advertisements from appearing on a computer's screen. The main characteristic of the class of PUPs known as adware is advertisements. However, such adware cannot operate on a user's machine when the finest ad blockers are installed and used. Many anti-malware products and browser addons often include this feature. It provides user defense against several sorts of advertising that appear on the user's screen while they are browsing. Ad blockers are also available as independent software and apps that offer adware protection for users.
  • Upgrade software: Downloadable free antivirus software is broadly available. However, users may choose the premium edition of any chosen antivirus if they want to upgrade their plan or obtain superior services. This provides protection that is almost complete.
  • Recognize darkness patterns: These are user interfaces that have been deliberately set up to deceive users. They are made to fool users into taking actions that they would not have chosen to take off their own free will. As an illustration, consider a mailing where it is challenging to locate the unsubscribe link or a website where it is challenging to locate customer contact information.

How to Detect and Remove Potentially Unwanted Programs?

To detect a PUP, it is important to first classify potentially unwanted programs. Security engineers look at lists of inappropriate behaviors to evaluate whether an application is a PUP. Programs are labeled as PUPs if they exhibit one or more of these behaviors.

PUP criteria include online infractions such as changed search results, illegal downloads, or bookmark entries, as well as prohibited forms of advertising like unwanted pop-ups. When installing software, there are other PUP elements to look out for, such as pre-filled checkboxes or suggestions to choose a lot of extra options.

PUPs are often found using specialized anti-malware tools like antivirus software and ad blockers. This program monitors for specific traits or behaviors displayed by malware and labels any discovered malware as PUPs.

PUPs are then automatically deleted, keeping the user's system clean and functional. This gets rid of any unwanted or pointless apps from the user's computer, making it operate more efficiently and providing malware defense.

Programs that might be harmful are frequently unintentionally deployed as extra partner apps. PUPs are not permanent viruses, so they are quite simple to remove but time-consuming. PUPs may typically be removed without much effort or outside assistance. Whether you use a Mac or Windows computer, you may manually remove PUPs from it by following a few easy steps. To keep your computer working efficiently and safeguard your personal information, remove or delete PUP files.

Some of the methods for removing PUPs from different OSs are given below:

For PUP Removal on a Windows PC follow steps given below:

  1. Open the Control Panel on a Windows computer.
  2. Choose the Programs section. A list of all installed programs will appear.
  3. Click the Uninstall button in the top bar after choosing the software you wish to remove.
  4. To completely delete the software from your computer, follow the removal instructions.

For PUP removal on a Mac or MacBook follow steps given below:

The uninstall procedure varies somehow for Apple PCs.

  1. Open the Finder and choose the name of your MacBook or Mac from the left-hand menu bar to uninstall any software that was not downloaded through the Mac App Store.
  2. The internal hard disk of the computer must then be opened. This is identified as Macintosh HD by default. All installed apps may be found in the Applications subdirectory.
  3. Simply drag and drop the selected software into the Dock's trash can to finish. This will completely remove the desired program.
  4. Click the trash can with two fingers, then choose "Empty Trash" to free up the storage area.

Can NGFW protect you from the Potentially Unwanted Program?

Technically speaking, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) are not malware, but if they infect the computer, they can lead to some problems. PUPs are intrusive, time-consuming, and RAM-intensive. As a result, they consume a lot of RAM and slow down the computer. You may avoid PUPs by taking additional security precautions. It's great to be able to manually search for PUPs on your computer, but if you're not sure where to start or if you've located all the PUP files, utilize software that performs for you.

Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW) are improved versions of standard firewalls. They have features like in-line deep packet inspection, intrusion detection, website filtering, and more. Malware protection is one of the most important features of a next-generation firewall. It protects a network by preventing malware from entering it and defending it against external cyber attacks. Next-generation firewalls are far better equipped to detect APTs(Advanced Persistent Threats).

Regular signature updates and advanced algorithms to find malware or other potentially unwanted programs even before signs are available are the basis of malware prevention. Malicious Java applets, programs that leverage known vulnerabilities in PDF, image, and office documents, macro viruses, and many other types of malware are all covered by NGFW, even when they employ stealthy or morph tactics for obfuscation.

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a L7/application layer firewall, which means it can tell the difference between different applications and put in place granular security policies at the application layer. Next-generation firewalls use deep packet inspection and intrusion prevention to know what applications are on the network. With these methods, firewalls can make better decisions about what to block based on very specific criteria and check the content of traffic for threats, since only approved apps are allowed into the network. The ability of next-generation firewalls to inspect deep packets naturally leads to the ability to stop threats. As the network packets pass through the firewall, they look for known attacks on known weaknesses. Files can also be sent off-device and run in a virtual sandbox to check for bad behavior (sandbox security). The advanced features of an NGFW not only reduce the risk of data breaches, but they also prevent or limit the use of non-business applications, which can slow down the network and make it harder for employees to do their jobs.

If you're looking for a reliable NGFW to meet your security needs, we recommend the Zenarmor (formerly known as Sensei) next-generation firewall. Zenarmor is a software-based instant firewall that can be set up almost anywhere (this means that it can be implemented on any platform with network connectivity). It's basically a plugin for your cloud-based firewalls that lets you use their next-generation firewall features. Then, Zenarmor's many features, such as application control, TLS inspection, Web filtering, and so on, will help you get better security.

Some of the most important things Zenarmor offers are: