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PUPs: What are they and how to avoid them?

What is a PUP?

PUP stands for Potentially Unwanted Program. This term was adopted as a more consumer friendly version of what was commonly called Grayware. Both terms accurately describe the software, because although it may not be illegal software in most cases – it is often unwanted software. It is common for security products to include PUP detection to some degree as this type of software does have an effect on the end user experience.

How do you get PUPs

PUPs are commonly downloaded as part of affiliate programs. These programs are run in conjunction with software that is downloaded or updated over the internet. Other mechanisms do exist, but the most common is to have a download site distribute a downloader that will download the software you are looking for – in conjunction with whatever software vendors they are affiliated with. In many cases a user might have to opt to disable the PUP installation when running the downloader, but in other cases the software will be installed anyway. Other methods include advertising solutions to common problems and prompting the user to install the software. For the most part the distribution is legal as it will be covered by the licensing agreement for the site and software.

Does my anti-virus detect PUPs

The answer to this question isn’t always clear. PUPs have a wide scope and can be harmless or a security risk. Your anti-virus products primary goal is to protect you from cyber-crime. Most commercial resident protections will have some degree of PUP detection, but in many cases the PUP may not fall under the purview of the anti-virus solution. There are specialist applications, often run in on-demand mode, which specialize in targeting PUPs.

Even legitimate programs which are not 100% necessary can increase your risk profile thereby increasing the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited. A common example is Java, which is frequently targeted by malware and if unnecessary, increases your risk of infection.

How do I protect myself from PUPs?

Because the business model around PUPs, although dubious, is legitimate there is little by way of legal response to the threat. Anti-virus products will detect PUPs, whose behaviour will likely compromise users. That being said, there are a number of ways that users can limit their risk in general:

–       Be cautious of software downloaded from the internet

–       Always download software from the vendor’s website

–       Always run up to date anti-virus software

–       Read all the options when installing software

Unwanted programs are usually not hard to uninstall. You can do it using the standard Windows uninstall or in the case of more robust types, a third party program such as Panda Cloud Cleaner, which can be downloaded for free* here.

Very little is truly free and a small amount of scepticism goes a long way online.

*When using Panda Cloud Cleaner you will almost certainly be asked to like Panda Security on Facebook. :)

Panda Cloud Cleaner Download Source

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Technical Support Specialist - Panda Security Africa

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