What are potentially unwanted programs (PUPs)?

Alongside malware like adware, ransomware, worms, and viruses, potentially unwanted programs are another type of software that’s not typically defined as malware. Although PUP indeed isn’t malicious, it is nevertheless unwelcome on our Macs. This software usually arrives on your computer without your knowledge and serves no useful function. So, in this article, we will shed some light on what are potentially unwanted programs and how to keep them away from your Mac.

What is a potentially unwanted program?

The definition is wide and is used by anti-malware tools to describe programs that are undesirable, but which the user downloaded deliberately. It includes things like browser toolbars, bundled software, and other utilities that claim to provide benefit to the user, but in reality, they are not that helpful. For example, browser toolbars usually display adverts that generate revenue for their creators. 

These programs aren’t malicious as such and don’t arrive on your computer without your permission, so anti-malware tools steer clear of describing them as malware.

PUPs typically exhibit the following behaviors, among others:

  • Branding and advertising that is deceptive or misleading
  • Lots of pop-ups, pop-unders or overlays that are intrusive and difficult to get rid of
  • Mass distribution through bundling on download sites as well as affiliate offers and promotions

How did I get PUPs on my Mac?

The most significant source of PUPs is freeware download sites like download.com, Softpedia, and Sourceforge. When you download applications from these sites, you need to use their download manager, which tries to push more software and often bundles tools and applications along with the one you chose to download. 

It’s all covered in the small print of the end-user license agreement you have to agree to before you download, so technically, you agree to install the PUP. But few people realize that’s what’s happening because, let’s face it, who reads the small print?

Known PUPs that may be harming your Mac

There are several potentially unwanted programs designed to run on the Mac. These include:

  • Mac Auto Fixer
  • Advanced Mac Cleaner
  • Mac Cleaner Pro
  • ZipCloud
  • SurfBuyer

Are potentially unwanted programs dangerous?

Potentially unwanted programs are not malicious – one of the reasons they are not classed as malware. So, they won’t damage your Mac or steal your data. However, like the pushy salesman who puts their foot in your front door, PUPs can be difficult to get rid of.

PUPs also consume system resources like CPU cycles and RAM, slowing down your Mac and making it more difficult for you to get anything done. They also take up storage space and display intrusive adverts.

How to avoid potentially unwanted programs

As we described earlier, the most common source of PUPs are freeware download sites. So, the simplest way to avoid downloading one is to steer clear of those sites. In particular, stay away from places that force you to use their proprietary download manager. If you do need to download software from a specific site, here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Pre-populated checkboxes – this is a good sign that the vendor is trying to trick you into downloading something you otherwise wouldn’t.
  • Mis-direction. If a download site hides the location of the software vendor’s own site in order to prevent you from going there to download an app, it’s trying to push crapware onto your Mac.
  • Grayed out the Skip button. Again, the site is trying to push you down a particular path by making it more difficult for you to take a different route.
  • Brightly-colored Next button. Another technique used to misdirect you.

In addition to looking out for the tricks listed above, you should also read the small print carefully. That includes download instructions, terms and conditions, and end-user license agreements. If you don’t want to read the whole agreement, at least read the headline to make sure that what you agree to relates only to the app you chose to download and not to bundled apps.

Don’t ignore warnings from your browser. If your web browser flags a site as being untrustworthy, take notice and consider whether you really want to download anything from it. Also, use an ad-blocker, as well as an anti-malware tool.

How to remove potentially unwanted programs

The first thing to do is to check to see how many, if any, potentially unwanted programs are on your Mac. Although PUPs are not technically malware, most anti-malware tools can identify and remove them.

My favorite tool for checking for and removing potentially unwanted software is CleanMyMac X’s Malware Removal tool. It’s quick and straightforward to use and means that I don’t have to use a separate anti-malware tool when I already use CleanMyMac X for lots of other tasks. Here’s how to use CleanMyMac X to check for and remove PUPs. 

Malware scan in process
  1. Download, install, and launch CleanMyMac X.
  2. Choose Malware Removal in the sidebar.
  3. Press Scan.
  4. Wait for the results – hopefully, you’ll discover no PUP on your Mac.
  5. If CleanMyMac X does detect a PUP or any other malware, it will tell you what it has found.
  6. Check the box to select the PUP for deletion.
  7. Press Remove.

You can also remove potentially unwanted programs manually. However, as well as trashing the main application, you would have to go through your /Library and ~/Library folders and check for any files or folders that the PUP has put there. That could be a long and laborious task. And there’s always the chance that you would leave some files behind.

Potentially unwanted programs don’t only clutter up your Mac, but also inhibit the smooth running of your machine. You should try and avoid downloading them by following the steps above. But if you do find potentially unwanted software on your Mac, better remove it for good. CleanMyMac X’s Malware Removal tool can help you get rid of it quickly.

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