Application Security IT Security


What are PUPs?

Potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) are software programs that are often installed when other software is being installed on a computer. PUPs often serve as marketing tools and may modify browser settings to display advertisements; this form of PUP is referred to as adware. PUPs differ from other malicious programs such as worms or Trojans because the installation typically takes place with the user’s consent. Since a PUP is not a malicious program and it is not intended to cause any damage to a computer, it is not considered malware. That said, PUPs do impact computers and user experiences by potentially:

  • Slowing down system resources
  • Crashing browser
  • Disrupting computer use with popup advertisements
  • Redirecting search results
  • Adding toolbars or search bars to browsers that use memory space
  • Changing browser home page
  • Blocking websites
  • Creating bookmarks
  • Collecting personal data through keystrokes or by grabbing personal information such as credit card details
  • Making it difficult to uninstall; perhaps requiring a third-party tool to get rid of it

Follow these tips in order to avoid PUPs:

Custom location. Do not select the default location when installing software; choose a custom location for the installed files where you can easily locate and manage them.

Advanced installation. When downloading software, you are often given a choice between the “advanced” or “quick” installation. Select the “advanced” option so that you can deselect any unwanted software and prevent its installation.

Anti-malware tools. Install anti-malware tools that can scan for PUPs.

Reviews. Read about other users’ experiences with software and take note of reviews that mention PUPs being included.

Legitimate vendors. Avoid downloading software from unknown websites and, instead, download the software from the original manufacturer.

Free software. Downloading free software often involves downloading partner programs that are used to finance the program; these partner programs can be PUPs.

Understand PUPs. Most PUPs are not illegal, but they can often be considered unethical due to the sneaky way that they are bundled with your legitimate software. Information about the PUPs may be included in the software’s end-user licensing agreement.

Dark patterns. Dark patterns are interfaces that are designed to trick users. Examples of dark patterns are buttons that appear unclickable, “unsubscribe” buttons that are difficult to locate, and pre-filled checkboxes. These dark patterns make it difficult for users to complete the action that wish to take, and instead take actions that the creator wishes them to.