Potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) are malware applications that run on your PC without your knowledge. They’re contained in software that packages PUPs with legitimate installation processes. You can also become a victim of PUPs by visiting a malicious website.
When a PUP is packaged with legitimate software, it seems like you’re installing just one application, but these third-party add-ons are installed without your knowledge. These programs perform a number of malicious activities such as installing adware, redirecting your search engine queries to ad sites, or sending hackers private information stored on your computer. PUPs are not only annoying, but they can also cause identity theft when they expose your computer and data to a hacker. Most PUPs run silently, but there are specific signs that alert you to the possibility of malicious software running on your computer.
Home Page Redirection
Some malware is meant to hijack your browser window and redirect you to a malicious site. The malicious site could host more malware, or it could be a page full of advertisements that help the hacker make money.
Typically, PUPs replace your home page with its own website page. When you open your browser — whether it’s Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox — your preferred home page is no longer active and a third-party site opens instead. This is a clear sign that your computer has malware intended to hijack your browser. Some PUPs switch your home page back to the malicious page even when you change it in the browser’s settings. If your home page settings don’t stick, you might have malware running in the background.
Search Engine Redirection
Search engine redirection is usually combined with home page redirection. When you type your favorite search engine into your browser, a different website shows up. For instance, when you type “google.com” into your browser’s address bar, an alternative search engine appears. This browser hijack is intended to get you to buy third-party software or send you to an ad site where the hijacker makes money on ad clicks. In some cases, the third-party website wants to install even more malware on your computer using ad popups.
Random Ad Popups
Malware often adds random popups to your computer system. Popups happen at random occasions depending on your computer activity. The goal for the malware writer is to identify your computer activity and send a popup that makes the malware owner money. For instance, popups display when you open a search engine page, when you play music, open certain software, or even just browse a website randomly. These popups are usually adware that display website content or try to download software to your computer. One sign that you have this type of PUP is that your ad blocker is disabled. If you notice your browser’s popup blocker no longer works, you probably have a PUP.
Your Email Gets Hacked
Hackers like to access your email and send malicious links to your contact list. When an email comes from a friend, you’re more likely to click the link and trust the website. Hackers bank on this concept and send malware from your own email address. However, hackers indiscriminately send email in bulk without checking if the email is valid. Old email addresses that aren’t active anymore send a return message to your inbox telling you that the email was undeliverable. You receive these errors in your email inbox, which is a sign that your email has been hacked. If you receive undeliverable return messages from emails you did not send, your email is hacked and you should change your password. This hack can happen if you’re unknowingly running a keylogger on your system or you fell for a phishing website scam.
Antivirus or Firewall Software Sends Warnings
As long as you continue to keep your antivirus and firewall software active and updated, these programs will detect some malware. If your antivirus software displays a warning for any program, you should immediately scan your system for more unwanted programs or malware. Malware usually replicates itself to install on the system in several places, and it tries to hide from antivirus software. Update your antivirus definition files and scan your entire computer if you get a warning.
PUPs are dangerous programs as well as annoying. Most people assume that third-party sites such as Google or Bing are hacked when they receive popups. When their browser redirects from Google to another site, they blame Google. However, in most cases, the user’s computer has malware and it must be removed. You can avoid PUPs by downloading and installing software only from official sites. Always keep your antivirus and firewall software updated and know the signs of malware before it exposes private data. With the right security precautions, you can ensure that your computer is free from PUPs.
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