User handbook: how to remove PUP malware

PUPs are potentially unwanted programs that, trust me, you do not want on your Mac. So often, you agree to download PUPs on the promise that this new program will make your Mac run faster. Or give your browser stunning and handy new features. Exaggerated and crazy promises are always that: crazy and full of lies.

Although PUP isn’t malicious, that doesn’t stop them from causing problems or acting as a gateway for other more severe malware or adware into your Mac. This article will shed some light on potentially unwanted programs and how to keep them away from your Mac for good.

What is PUP malware?

The definition of PUP malware is broad but usually referred to as undesirable programs that the user downloaded deliberately. These can be browser toolbars, bundled software, and other utilities that claim to benefit the user but are not that helpful in real life. For example, browser toolbars usually display adverts that generate revenue for their creators with no value for the user whatsoever.

And because these programs aren’t malicious and don’t arrive on your computer without your permission, antimalware tools steer clear of describing them as malware. So what is PUP malware in real life? Here’re some examples:

  • 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

Is PUP a Malware?

Officially no. But both are very similar. PUP is not recognized as malware because it cannot be downloaded without users’ consent. That’s why the term PUP was introduced instead of calling it malware.

How can PUPs harm your Mac?

After all, PUP is a virus, and most anti-virus systems will classify them as viruses to save users from unwanted stress. A recent example of a PUP virus is PUP.Optional.Mindspark. Produced by IAC/InterActiveCorp, an online media company that generates revenue from advertising, it claims to provide a web browser toolbar and browser start pages that allow users to win money through sweepstakes or online games.

If you've installed something like that — then some of the following might sound familiar:

  • More offers of games and advertising than you would typically see on a web browser
  • Adverts and popups that take over web pages prevent you from accessing content
  • Popups advertising free games or software to try, along with high-stakes and low-risk gambling offers
  • Adverts suddenly appear when you fill out forms or enter a passwords

Collecting user data without consent, eating up your system resources, or slowing down your computer is among other damages that PUP can cause.

Now, this is all pretty annoying, but is it really that dangerous?

Well yes! PUP is putting your Mac at risk. If you are experiencing any of the above, your browser has been hijacked. Even if it is not doing any harm, it could cause the aftermath later.

PUP acts as a backdoor into your Mac, allowing cybercriminals to steal sensitive details. It can also hijack the CPU and GPU (the processing power your Mac needs) to use your computer as part of an illegal cryptocurrency mining operation. PUP.Optional.Mindspark, which I've mentioned a couple of times already, is just one example of dozens of similar PUPs or potentially dangerous online viruses.

Types of PUPs

It’s good to be aware of some of the most spread PUPs that may harm your Mac. Here’re several potentially unwanted programs you can look up online later:

  1. Mac Auto Fixer
  2. Advanced Mac Cleaner
  3. Mac Cleaner Pro
  4. ZipCloud
  5. SurfBuyer

How to avoid PUPs?

The simplest way to avoid downloading PUP is to stay away from sites 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:

Prepopulated checkboxes. It can be a sign that the vendor is trying to trick you into downloading something you otherwise wouldn’t.

Misdirection. If a download site hides the location of the software vendor’s site to prevent you from downloading 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 thing, at least read the headline to ensure that what you agree to relates only to the app you downloaded and not bundled apps. If you’re trying to download an app, read the “5 signs an app is a virus” article first.

And please, don’t ignore warnings from your browser! If your web browser flags a site as untrustworthy, consider whether you really want to download anything from it. Also, use an ad-blocker as well as an antimalware tool. Next, let’s talk about how to remove PUP malware.

How to remove PUP malware from Mac?

There are two ways to remove PUP malware, such as PUP.Optional.Mindspark on a Mac: manually or with a bit of help. Below are two options for you to consider.

Option 1: The quick way

First, let me show you how to get rid of PUP malware with the specialized tool CleanMyMac X. It has a bullet-proof Malware Removal module that scans and eliminates all unwanted programs in one click. Here’s how to use it:

Malware scan in process

Option 2: Manually

PUPs are usually found within the plugins section creating new toolbars for themselves and taking over browsers. So here’s a PUP malware removal guide you can use for your specific browser.

Uninstall PUP from Safari
  1. Go to Safari > Preferences
  2. Click on Extensions
  3. Pick the Extension that you don't recognize to delete
  4. Click Uninstall. Confirm that you want to Uninstall the extension
Remove PUP from Chrome
  1. Open Chrome
  2. Go to the Menu in your browser > Settings > Extensions
  3. Pick the Extension that you don't recognize to delete
  4. Click Remove. Confirm that you want to remove the extension
Remove PUP from Firefox
  1. Open Firefox
  2. Go to the Menu in your browser
  3. Click on the Add-ons and themes > Extensions. Select the Extension you want to remove.
  4. Click Remove. Confirm that you want to delete it.

Now that you’ve removed the extension from your browsers, you need to search through several files to clear out any trace of it.

  1. Open Finder and choose Go > Go to Folder.
  2. Now you can paste in the following locations on your Mac:
  • /Applications
  • /Library/Internet Plug-Ins
  • /Library/LaunchAgents/
  • /Library/ScriptingAdditions/

Always be careful when looking for plugins and PUPs. How they're labeled in one folder might sometimes be different in another. Be careful not to delete anything important by mistake.

Whether you go the manual route or download an app to help, the good news is that PUPs are relatively easy to remove, unlike other evil viruses. Users' biggest mistake is leaving PUP on their Mac for too long. Why? Because then more dangerous viruses can crawl in. So removing it sooner rather than later is in your interest.

There are many apps out there to help you fight potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). You may try CleanMyMac X. it has an excellent PUP database. Here you can download a free copy of CleanMyMac X with a handy Malware Removal tool. Stay tuned for more Mac tips & hacks!

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