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How to Avoid PUPs

Potentially Unwanted Programs

How to Avoid PUPs (Info Graphic)

If your users are downloading software onto their computers, chances are they're unknowingly clutter their machines with PUPs.  A little user education could free up some time spent cleaning (not to mention computer resources).


What is a PUP?

  • The acronym for Potentially Unwanted Programs
  • A PUP is a software program that users likely didn't want installed on their computers

What Does a PUP Do?

  • Slows the computer down because of various background processes
  • displays numerous annoying ads
  • adds toolbars that steal space on the browser
  • some collect private information

How Users Get Them

  • PUPs often come bundled with software that users did, in fact, want. By swiftly clicking through an installation, it's easy to miss the fine print and "agree" to the extra applications.

Types of PUPs

  • Spyware, adware, and dialers
    • PUPs are sometimes called bundleware, junkware, or PUAs (Potentially Unwanted Applications).

PUMs are "Potentially Unwanted Modifications."  These are unwanted changes made to a computer's default settings.

PUMs can be made by legitmate applications and malware, though changes made by malware are more likely to cause problems.

Your users probably don't even know the changes took place.


  • The makers of PUPs felt that since they included all the information necessary for consent in the download agreement, PUPs shouldn't be lumped in with spyware or other forms of malware.
  • 'Cause everyone reads download agreements, right? Therefore, McAfee came up with the softer, less malicious sounding term "Potentially Unwanted Programs."


In order to determine whether a program is a PUP, security engineers examine a list of bad behaviors.  Some apps are classified as PUPs for having multiple infractions, others because they had one serious violation.


  • Obtrusive or out-of-context advertising
  • Pop-ups or pop-unders
  • Ad insertion, overlay, or replacement
  • Ads with no clearly identified attribution
  • Ads that are not clearly defined as ads
  • Redirection to a competitor's site

Download Infractions

  • Excessive shortcuts on desktop
  • Bundling
  • Pre-populated check boxes
  • Liberal use of "recommended" next to an option
  • No or difficult uninstall procedure
  • Non-standard install locations
  • Browser add-ons that don't show up in add-on manager

Web Infractions

  • Altered search results
  • Toolbars with no value
  • Hijacked search engines or home pages
  • Bookmark insertions

Blacklisted Programs

  • Registry cleaners, optimizers, or defragmenters
  • Driver optimizers or updates


Recognize Dark Patterns

  • Dark patterns are user interfaces that are deliberately designed to trick the user.
  • Look out for pre-populated check boxes (Software programs such as Unchecky scan third-party software agreements and uncheck options that result in PUPs, but they may not catch everything.)
  • Beware of those adding an unofficial "seal" as a credibility indicator.
  • Watch out for emphasis of a desired path (gray out the "skip" button; use bright color for "next" button).
  • Be wary of misdirection:  Companies may try to hide free of cheaper options.

Read Through EULAs Carefully

  • Don't accept terms of use that are for bundled programs.
  • Read the top title above the fine print to be sure the end user license agreement (EULA) you are accepting is only for the program you originally downloaded.
  • If it isn't, you can decline and still move forward in the install process.

Read Through Install Wizard Instructions Carefully

  • Read the information in the top navigation bar of the Install Wizard to catch names of unwanted programs.
  • Do not accept standard, express, default, or other installation settings that are recommended.
  • Always choose custom:  Install Wizards may call this out as (advanced) in parentheses but that's actually a dark pattern.  Custom settings are not advanced.

Level Up On Security

  • Install an ad blocker/pop-up blocker.
  • Install anti-spyware and anti-malware products.