Understanding the digital realm is crucial for maintaining the health of our personal computing devices. One such understanding, critical to the wellness of our systems, pertains to Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) – seemingly harmless, yet often unnecessary software that can affect the performance, security and integrity of our computers.
With an increased reliance on technology, it becomes paramount for individuals like us to comprehend the risks associated with these errant programs and develop the skills necessary for their prudent identification and removal. This purposeful insight familiarizes us with the nature of PUPs, their origin, their effects on our systems, and further illuminates on the urgency of their instant removal.
Understanding Potentially Unwanted Programs
What Are Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)?
Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) are software programs that, while not inherently malicious like viruses or malware, can still cause problems and affect user experience on your computer. PUPs can include adware, junkware, or software bundles that install additional programs without the explicit consent or knowledge of the user. They often come bundled with free software downloads from less reputable sites, and once installed can cause disruptive behavior like unwanted pop-up ads, modifications to browser and system settings, slow system performance, or data collection activities that compromise personal privacy.
Origins of PUPs
PUPs commonly come from lower-quality free software downloads where they are bundled in with the main program. So when a user installs the desired program, the PUP is installed at the same time without user’s explicit consent. They can also appear as optional additions during the installation process for a legitimate program, with their inclusion often hidden within complex terms of service agreements or pre-selected as the default choice, thus taking advantage of users who click through install prompts without reading closely.
How PUPs Affect Your Computer
Once installed, PUPs can affect your computer in several ways. They can display annoying pop-up ads or redirect your browsing to unwanted websites, significantly slowing down your system performance. Some PUPs may change your system or browser settings, making your computer difficult to use the way you want. Some may engage in data collection activities, tracking your internet behavior, collecting personal information, and possibly compromising your privacy.
Risks Associated With PUPs
The risks associated with PUPs are several. They can take up system resources, slowing down your computer or causing it to crash. If a PUP changes your browsers settings, it can redirect your searches to advertising or phishing sites, posing a threat to your online security. PUPs can also compromise your privacy by tracking your online behavior and gathering sensitive information. This data might be used for unwanted marketing or even sold to third parties.
Why Removing PUPs is Crucial
Removing PUPs promptly is crucial to maintain a safe and efficient computer operation. By doing so, you prevent unwanted advertisements, avoid redirection to dangerous websites, and protect your personal information from being misused. Eliminating PUPs can also improve your system’s performance by freeing up system resources. To remove them, you should use a trusted antivirus or anti-malware program that can detect and eliminate PUPs. Be aware of what you agree to during software installations, and consider using a pop-up blocker to prevent unwanted ads from appearing.
Identifying Potentially Unwanted Programs
Identification of PUPs on Your PC
To identify PUPs on your PC, you must be aware of the signs that indicate their presence. Sudden slowness while browsing or during system startup, random pop-ups, redirection to unfamiliar websites, or unexpected presence of new toolbars, buttons or browser extensions are common indicators. If you notice programs you don’t recognize or did not intentionally install, they could be PUPs.
Using Task Manager to Identify PUPs
One of the best tools in your software arsenal for identifying PUPs is your system’s Task Manager. It helps you view a list of programs currently running on your computer.
To open Task Manager, press the “Ctrl,” “Alt” and “Delete” keys simultaneously, and then select “Task Manager” from the menu. Navigate to the “Processes” tab if you are on Windows 7 or earlier, or the “Details” tab on Windows 10. Look through the list for any unfamiliar programs.
You can also see the resources different programs are consuming. PUPs often use up a lot of memory resources, so any unfamiliar program that is taking up significant processing power may be suspicious.
Using the Control Panel to Spot PUPs
The Control Panel in Windows gives you another way to spot potentially unwanted programs. Here, you will see a list of all installed programs. To view them, click the “Start” button, select “Control Panel,” and then choose “Programs and Features” (in Windows 10, you can just right click the Start button and choose “Apps and Features“). Browse through the list and look for unfamiliar or suspicious programs.
Next to each program, you will see a date. This tells you when the program was installed. If it corresponds with when you started noticing problems with your PC, it could be a PUP.
When you find a program you don’t recognize, do a quick online search to check if it’s a legitimate program. If it’s not, or if it’s something you don’t use or didn’t intentionally install, it could be a PUP.
Programs to Remove PUPs
Several software tools are available for detecting and removing Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs). Each of these products functions somewhat differently, but they’re all designed to safeguard your device from undesired applications that could hinder its performance or compromise its security. Here are a few recommended programs that you can use:
- Malwarebytes: It provides a comprehensive solution against PUPs and other forms of malware. It flags PUPs during system scans and allows users to decide whether they want to keep or remove them. Running regular system scans using Malwarebytes would ensure that the pre-existing PUPs and new intrusions can be identified and eliminated promptly.
- AdwCleaner: This free application is built by Malwarebytes and specifically targets adware, PUPs, and browser hijackers. The application does not need to be installed and can be run from any location on the device. After scanning, it provides a detailed log of PUPs and allows the user to select what to remove.
- Spyhunter 5: It hunts down and removes adware and spyware that most antivirus programs overlook. Additionally, it offers added protection against harmful websites.
- Combo Cleaner: It provides an additional layer of security. It’s known for its early-warning and remediation services against PUPs.
How to Use PUP removing Software
Using these programs is typically straightforward. Let’s use Malwarebytes as an example:
- Download and install: Download the program from the official website and install it onto your computer.
- Update database: Before scanning, make sure the database is updated to enable detection of the latest PUPs.
- Run a scan: You can choose to run a scan on a specific drive or on the full system. In the latter case, the duration of the scan depends on the system’s size.
- Review results and take action: Once the scan is complete, a list of the detections is provided. Look over the list, uncheck anything you don’t want removed, and then click the “Clean” or “Quarantine” button to remove the PUPs.
- Reboot if required: Some PUPs can’t be fully removed until the computer is restarted. If this is the case, the software will prompt you to restart.
Effectivity of Software in Removal of PUPs
Most of these programs are effective in detecting and eliminating PUPs. They not only search for known PUPs but also monitor for behaviors indicative of PUPs. It’s important to note that no single application can be completely exhaustive. Hence, for maximum effect, it can be beneficial to use multiple applications in tandem.
All these tools should be kept up-to-date for them to be effective. Regular updates include the most recent PUP definitions, enabling your software to detect and remove the latest threats. Also, just removing a PUP once doesn’t mean it can’t reappear, hence periodic scans are strongly advised.
Removal Process of Potentially Unwanted Programs
Accessing the Control Panel
To start removing the PUPs, you need to access the Windows Control Panel, which is where you can view and uninstall programs on your system. You can access this by clicking the Start button or pressing the Windows Key, then typing “Control Panel” into the search box that appears and selecting it from the search results. Alternatively, you can press Windows Key + X and choose ‘Control Panel’ from the menu that pops up.
Stopping the PUP from Running
Before you try to uninstall a PUP, you should shut it down if it’s currently running in order to improve the chances of it being fully removed from your computer. To do this, you need to open your Task Manager. You can open this by right-clicking the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen and choosing ‘Task Manager’, or pressing the keys Ctrl + Shift + Esc simultaneously. Inside the Task Manager, look for the PUP’s name in the list under the ‘Processes’ or ‘Applications’ tab, right-click on it, and select the ‘End Task’ or ‘End Process’ option. This will stop the PUP from running.
Uninstalling the PUP from the Control Panel
Now that the PUP is not running, you can attempt to uninstall it. To do this, navigate back to the Control Panel’s ‘Programs’ or ‘Programs and Features’ section, which contains a list of all the software installed on your computer. Scroll down until you find the PUP in question, click on it to select it, and then click the ‘Uninstall’ button that appears at the top of the list. Follow any prompts that appear to complete the uninstallation process.
Performing a System Scan
It is recommended to scan your system after uninstalling a PUP to ensure that all traces of it were deeply removed. You can do this with the help of an antivirus or anti-malware software. These tools will scan your system for any remaining files or registry entries related to the PUP and remove them.
Please note that some PUPs may be stubborn to remove, in such case, it is advisable to use a dedicated PUP removal tool such as AdwCleaner, Malwarebytes, Spyhunter, or Combo Cleaner. Follow the instructions provided by these programs to perform a thorough system scan and remove any remaining PUPs.
Note: Remember to always be careful when downloading and installing new software and always opt for custom installation option, this can prevent the installation of PUPs bundled with the software.
We’ve demystified the complexity of dealing with Potentially Unwanted Programs, armed ourselves with efficient tools for their identification and, most importantly, understood the removal process in-depth. Armed with this knowledge, we’re more than capable of purging our computers from these unnecessary programs, ensuring the optimal performance, security, and reliability of our devices. Not only that, but we’re also contributing to a more secure digital ecosystem by preventing the spread and impact of these unwanted programs. Monitor your computer’s health regularly, remove PUPs promptly and continue enjoying the digital realm with a newfound sense of security and control. If you notice something wrong in the steps or article, Click here to suggest an edit.
Nishant Verma is a senior web developer who love to share his knowledge about Linux, SysAdmin, and more other web handlers. Currently, he loves to write as content contributor for ServoNode and also collaborated with MRLabs now.