What do these words mean and how are they relevant? I mean come on; a PUP sounds adorable! Well, puppies are pretty adorable, but PUPs are less so. One will damage your carpet and furnishings, the other will slow down and compromise your computer. “PUP” is an acronym for “Potentially Unwanted Program” and they are littered over the Internet along with their nasty compatriots, Spyware and Malware.
Recently, I came across these articles on Ars Technica (great technology news website) and it reminded me of the kinds of things we deal with constantly at the shop. After seeing Myhrvold’s documentation with being an average internet user (who then monitors what each thing does to his computer) I sort of wanted to touch base on the kinds of things he mentions.
Firstly, what are Spyware, Malware and Potentially-Unwanted Programs? All three of these are descriptors for programs that may have been installed to your computer without your permission (or a lack of attention). Malware is Malicious Software, Spyware is Spying Software and PUPs are Potentially Unwanted Programs. Most authors of these programs try to bundle them together with legitimate sounding downloads and webpages that prey on the unaware.
Some names to look for: “DomaIQ”, “InstallerIQ”, anything Toolbar (that you didn’t choose to install. Personally, we don’t like any toolbars as they all hog resources, but you may want a certain one.), “DefaultTab”, “PC Optimizer Pro”, “myWebSearch”, “Conduit”, “EXETender”, “My PC Backup”, “24×7 Help”, “Yontoo”, “WebCake”, “Wajam”, “BrowserDefender”, “iLivid” – just to name a few. These are all Spyware/Malware that offer one service (sometimes) and otherwise do more bad than good.
When visiting your favorite websites you may see flashy advertisements on the sidebar, or throughout the article you’re reading, or pretty much anywhere on the website. Sometimes they say things like “Free iPod(/iPad/iPhone/MacBook etc)!” or “Congratulations, you’ve won! You’re the 1,000,000th viewer!” Chances are, these are fake and look real and appealing so that you click on them. When you click on them they will probably divert you to a different webpage and ask you for personal information (most often your email address for starters).
A lot of these vicious programs come from illegitimate websites as well. As highlighted in Myhrvold’s article above, his goal was to set out on a search engine and search for things along the lines of “free (wallpapers, e-cards, music, games)”. There are a heck of a lot of fake “landing pages” where if you search for “free something” you’ll end up on them. It can be confusing because there will be a lot of differently sized “Download” and “Start Download” and “Begin” buttons all over the place – with absolutely zero of them offering you what you wanted in the first place.
Some of these programs that are installed via this process are very hard to get rid of completely, and the more there are, the more your computer slows down day-to-day as it spends more of its power processing all of the useless garbage running in the background. Additionally some of these worse programs, usually called Trojans, will act as gateways for even more junk to be downloaded. They can even be used to pump harder programs in, like full-blown viruses.
There’s an old adage that’s along the lines of; “If something is too good to be true, it likely is.” And this is no less the truth even on the Internet. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, looking up free things and clicking the free offers that advertisements have will do you and your computer more harm than good.