Category - PUP

What is a PUP?

The term PUP stands for “Potentially Unwanted Program”. A potentially unwanted program or a potentially unwanted application (PUA) is a piece of software that some or most users may consider as undesirable, but which does not cross into outright malware.


PUPs/PUAs aren’t restricted to any particular operating system. Instead, they could be encountered on Windows computers, Android smartphones, Mac products  and iPhones.

Unlike more clearly defined categories of unwanted software such as Viruses, Adware, Browser Hijackers, Ransomware, and Trojan Horses, with the PUP category, the user’s own individual perception of the program is what most commonly defines whether a given piece of software can be defined as a PUP.

This category of programs and apps is very extensive and it can include both regular programs that may have characteristics some people may find unpleasant as well as software that could potentially weaken the security of the computer and put its safety at risk. This is also why, sometimes, Adware and Browser Hijacker apps could, too, be categorized as PUPs, since they usually don’t have abilities that can directly harm the computer and are most of the time seen as an annoyance and not so much as a direct threat. 

Generally, however, having a PUP on the computer most of the time means experiencing some mild inconvenience and irritation caused by the potentially unwanted program that could, under certain circumstances, evolve into a bigger problem. Depending on whether or not the program in question is actually offering anything useful, some users may simply prefer to put up with its not-so-pleasant features.

How do PUPs get installed?

A big similarity between PUPs, Adware, and Browser Hijackers, and one of the reasons why these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, is their similar distribution methods. PUPs, like Adware and Hijackers, are typically distributed via three main methods.

  • The first of these three methods is the infamous file-bundling. You have probably encountered this software-distribution method on many occasions. The basis of it is that a given program/update installer has some additional components/apps/features put inside of it, thus forming a file bundle. Those added components could sometimes be useful but, in most instances, users don’t need them. If such an added component turns out to be, in one way or another, obstructive and irritating to the user, one could say it is a PUP.
    This file-bundling distribution method is quite effective and the reason for its effectiveness mainly stems from the users’ own unwillingness to take a few extra moments to look through the installer of a given program and examine the different setup options provided there. Oftentimes, there will be an Advanced/Custom setup menu where one could see if there are any additional components included in the installer and remove them from the installation configuration.
  • The second distribution strategy for spreading PUPs is through the use of different types of misleading online content. Those are the various forms of online ads, download buttons, promotional banners, clickbait links that you encounter on the Internet, especially on adult, gambling, or file-sharing/torrent sites. In some cases, a PUP doesn’t even require an installation process and gets integrated with your system as soon as you click on the piece of online content that’s used for its distribution.
  • The third distribution channel for PUPs and PUAs is through various forms of online spam. This includes spam email messages from senders that pretend to be someone else and messages sent to you on social media sites that try to get you to click on a link that will automatically download the unwanted program. In most cases, PUPs distributed this way are likely to not only be unwanted but also dangerous since most spam messages are sent by people that try to profit through dishonest and illegal schemes.

Are PUPs harmful?

Again, as we mentioned earlier, many different forms of software could be categorized as PUPs so its difficult to describe this software as either dangerous or safe. However, if there’s a reason to categorize a given program or app as potentially unwanted, this means there’s a certain aspect of it that makes users want to keep it away from their computers. Maybe the PUP shows ads to make an extra profit or maybe it introduces unwanted changes to the system and to other programs without your permission. In many cases, even certain antivirus and anti-malware tools could be categorized as PUPs if they are being too aggressive with their security warnings or if they constantly nag you to buy their more advanced versions.

Depending on what makes a PUP unwanted, the program could simply be irritating to the user or it could potentially weaken the computer’s security and lead to exposure to bigger safety hazards.

Generally, if a program that you consider as potentially unwanted is installed on your computer and you have no use for it, then there is no reason to keep it and it might be better to get this program uninstalled.

How do you remove a PUP?

Some PUPs are easier to remove than others but, in most cases, if a given program can be described as a PUP, then you can expect it to be a bit difficult to remove. Again, it depends on the situation but, for example, oftentimes, there may be no uninstallation wizard or you may not be able to find the directory where the PUP is installed (and from where you can remove it). On Windows computers, a PUP may not be listed in the Control Panel’s Uninstall a Program list, making it even more difficult to delete the program.

Despite all that, however, PUPs are not viruses and they should not be all that tricky to remove. If you are currently struggling to remove any particular potentially unwanted program, you can look through our articles and find the one written about that program. In it, you will find a guide that will help you with the removal by showing you and explaining to you the different steps that need to be taken to successfully delete the PUP.

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