Potentially Unwanted Programs and how to avoid installing PUPs

In this post, we will see what are Potentially Unwanted Programs, also called in short as PUPs, and how you can detect them, stop them from installing and remove them – if third-party software install them on to your computer. This form of grayware or non-malware may affect your privacy, as well as potentially compromise your Windows computers security.

Potentially Unwanted Programs PUPs

What are Potentially Unwanted Programs or PUPs

It is clear by the name – unwanted programs – that they are software or apps you don’t want on your computer, laptop, phone, tablet or other devices. Then how do they get on your computers? We’ll discuss the different tricks some software use, to install these unwanted programs.

There are typically two ways such crapware gets delivered. First it could be bundled by the developer themselves or secondly, download sites may require you to download their wrappers or download managers, which would then foist PUPs.

Potentially unwanted programs are programs that come bundled mostly with freeware and install themselves, with or without your knowledge, on your devices. This happens especially when you are installing a freeware. The software installation package tricks you into accepting the installation of third-party programs, that you do not really want. Moreover, not only freeware, but some paid software also install third-party programs that you don’t want!

Detect PUPs

The potentially unwanted programs which come in the form of browser add-ons and toolbars are readily identifiable. Others like programs that run in the background are not easily identifiable. You may have to check your Windows Task Manager to find out the PUPs.

Though they may seem innocent, the PUPs are often spyware. They may contain keyloggers, dialers and similar software built into them. In such cases, your anti-virus system, if good enough, should give you an alarm, as and when you are installing them, knowingly or unknowingly. That is the time when you have to stop the installation and prevent these potentially unwanted programs from being installed. Even if the PUPs are clean, they take up the precious system resources and slow down your computers. Potentially unwanted programs in the form of browser add-ons will slow down your browser and hamper your browsing experience. Plus it may violate your privacy and security too.

Remove Potentially Unwanted Programs

To uninstall such PUPs, open the browser settings and click on Options. Depending upon your browser, the process to manage add-ons will be different. In Internet Explorer, you can find it under Tools > Manage your Add-ons. Read our post on how to manage browser add-ons for detailed instructions for various browsers.

Check the add-ons. For the ones you do not understand, run an Internet search to see if they are important. If not, turn them off. Even if they are not PUPs, turning them off will add to your browsing speed.

If you see some unknown toolbars, you can remove them via this panel or you can visit the Control Panel to remove them. In case of some nasty toolbars which refuse to go away, you can use some Free Toolbar Cleaner Tools or Browser Hijacker Removal Tools.

Next, check out the Programs and Features under Control Panel to see the software installed. The best method is to click on the “Date Installed” so that the programs get sorted by the date you installed them. If you see anything in addition to the program you installed on a particular date, they are the ones you would want to remove. But remember that some programs need external programs like .NET and Visual C++ Distribution Framework. If you remove those programs, your software may not function properly. So you want to be sure! There are many sites that tell you what different programs do. You can then remove or keep the programs based on the recommendations  on such sites. FreeFixer is a free tool that can help you remove PUPs.



Another method is to check the Task Manager. This would be a tedious task, but if you are experiencing extreme slowness in your Windows computer, check out each process. As mentioned earlier, there are websites that tell and recommend what the programs are and whether to keep them or not. Certain freeware like Should I Remove It will also guide you in this matter. Based on the recommendations, you may check out the programs corresponding to the process, take an educated decision and then uninstall them.

These days, several security software are programmed to search and find out potentially unwanted programs. Check out the interface of your anti-virus and see if it has any such option in its Settings. If it has, you are lucky. Just run a scan to detect a list of PUPs and then remove them.

Prevent PUPs from Installing

It is your way of installing programs that often brings potentially unwanted programs into your devices. If you choose the ‘express method’ or the ‘recommended method’ to install freeware, chances would be high that your computer will get installed with the freeware, plus a bunch of Potentially Unwanted Programs. Therefore, always download freeware from safe download sites and go through the custom installations – and never blindly click on Next, Next, Next.

There are several tricks employed by software installation packages to get your consent to install potentially unwanted programs. When you go through the custom installation process, even if you have little knowledge of computers, you will still be safely installing just the program you want.

Among the main tricks employed by installation packages, is to present a EULA (a page with I ACCEPT and I DECLINE buttons) on the dialog box with a Next Button. If you read the top of such a page on the dialog, you know what software the installation package is talking about. In such cases, it is better to decline and exit.

Another common trick employed, is to show the EULA page, with I ACCEPT ticked. There is no I DECLINE option. In such cases, just uncheck the I ACCEPT button. You will still be able to click Next to continue installing your program without the PUP.

In other cases, when you select custom installation, it is as easy as to uncheck “Install XYZ toolbar” and “Change home page to XYZ” and click Next to install only the freeware. You thus need to be careful and not in a hurry while installing software so that you install only what you want.

Check the wordings carefully too. Sometimes they may use two negatives and trick you into not unchecking the box – and installing the third-party offer.

Unchecky is a free tool that can prevent unnecessary third-party programs from being installed on your computer. Whenever you install a new program, this tool will become proactive and spontaneous, and deselect the irrelevant offers, which will not only save you a lot of mouse clicks, but also keeps your system away from the unwanted adware, PUPs and other crapware.

SpywareBlaster can prevent the installation of spyware and other potentially unwanted programs on your Windows PC.

If yours is a multi-user PC, you can block other users from installing programs.

Final Words

These days very few ‘freeware’ are really freeware! Our freeware is genuinely offered as free. There are several others too. But some freeware developers bundle third-party offers which could be potentially unwanted software, with a vie to making some money. These are not freeware – but bundleware as the push crapware on to your Windows computer. So whenever you install free software or games, be very careful during installation. Read and click on Next. Uncheck boxes, if you need to opt out of third-party offers. If no such options are offered – exit the installation. Better not to install such software.

Another trend I have noticed lately, is that some developers launch software as genuine freeware, without pushing any third-party offers initially. Blogs, download sites  and websites cover them and link to them. Once, some time has passed by, they start bundling Potentially Unwanted Programs. So one has to be careful at all times.

If you have any observations to make, please do so for the benefit of others.

See how you can make Windows Defender protect you against Potentially Unwanted Programs too.

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of TheWindowsClub.com and a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows for the period 2006-16. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.