Almost every free program that can be downloaded on the Internet has a ‘hidden agenda’. This takes the form of ‘download wrappers’, which offer additional software for the user to install. These are mentioned during the installation process, and you may have to ‘untick’ some boxes if you don’t want the extras.
Then there are the programs you may not be aware of. Signs that one of these has been downloaded include extra tabs loading at browser start-up, a different home page, extra ads displayed on Google search results pages, and pop-ups or unrelated ads appearing on web pages.
While this might be a result of malicious software (malware), it’s more likely that you are dealing with a PUP (potentially unwanted program). As the name suggests, it’s an extra program that you might not want to have downloaded, such as a cookie that tracks your browsing habits. The designer will have included this to recoup development costs, as the information gleaned is then sold to various companies.
When downloading a program you will usually be given two choices:
- ‘Express Install (recommended)’, and
- ‘Custom Install (for advanced users)’.
You are meant to choose ‘Express Install’, because that also installs the PUPs. But do not be deterred by the caution notice that accompanies ‘Custom Install’. If you take your time and read the on-screen instructions carefully, a ‘Custom Install’ is really quite simple. Moreover, it is unlikely that you will harm your PC. Quite the contrary – you will be able to cut out the PUPs.
Scott Hanselman has a web page dedicated to PUPs, which he calls “pure evil”.
One more thing. If you’ve ‘Express Installed’ software and find that your home page is blank and cannot be changed back to what it was, you are dealing with malware and need a program such as SpyHunter (www.enigmasoftware.com) to get rid of it.