Prevention is Best!

Prevention is the best way to ensure you are never infected with spyware and your data is never lost or stolen. It is possible to clean up an infected machine and remove spyware but sometimes the damage from certain spyware, such as ransomware, cannot be fixed as files become encrypted or otherwise corrupted.

While no single solution available is a silver bullet, the following list outlines some of the best practices in lessening the risks of losing data after an infection:

1) Backup your files and software! Having backup copies of your photos, documents, software, and other files can make sure you never lose them to a malware infection such as ransomware encryption. Many people choose to use external drives or the cloud for their backups, but keep in mind that if you use external drives, the data can still be at risk if you leave your backup drives connected to your machine at all times.

We at SUPERAntiSpyware offer an Online Backup Solution as an optional service when purchasing SUPERAntiSpyware at $6.95 a month. This subscription allows you to backup and protect your important files and documents onto a cloud-like server so you always have copies of your important files.  You can read more about our backup services here: https://www.backup.support.com

2) Keep SUPERAntiSpyware up to date and run regular scans. We update our definition list twice a day to make sure our users catch the latest threats, as well as periodically release software updates. It is imperative users keep up to date so their software continues finding the latest threats. In order to make sure that nothing creeps in between scans, we recommend regular scanning at least once a week, if not every day.

3) Update your Windows Operating System and Software you use. Make sure you always are using the latest version of Windows with the latest updates and security fixes. Most Windows updates are patches for existing and/or potential vulnerabilities, so keeping these holes filled is crucial in stopping the spread of malware. Additionally, using unsupported operating systems (anything older than Windows 7 as of right now) can leave you just as unprotected. If you are using web browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, or others, always make sure you are using the latest versions, and don’t forget to update any add-ons, plugins, or extensions you use to the latest editions.

4) Double Check Emails before opening them. Check the sender of every email you receive. If you do not know them, or the email looks suspicious, do not open it! Delete it! Do the suspicious emails include links to click or strange attachments? Do not click the links or open the attachments no matter how innocent they sound. If it claims to be from an official organization, call them and ask if the email is legit. Better safe than sorry!

5) Use strong passwords and/or multi-factor authentication. Good passwords are long. Good passwords also contain capital and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Do not use an easily guessable password that contains personal information like your birthday or the name of your pet, and do not use the same password for every website! This makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your personal information, especially when you use different passwords for every site. It might be a bit more to remember, but it diminishes the risk and the headache of sorting everything out after your information is stolen.

Many sites, such as banks, often will have multi-factor authentication available. With these systems, you not only need a password, but you also will need a special code that is often randomized on a dongle or smartphone app. These types of systems are more secure than just a typical password, as the extra step is incredibly difficult to hack into.

6) Use an Ad blocking Extension. Software such as Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin for your internet browsers are free, cross-platform browser extensions that filter unwanted content such as ads, pop-ups, rogue scripts, and even IP leaks. Using an ad blocking extension on your web browser will greatly lessen the impact of “Malvertising”, website ads that drop rogue programs onto your PC without your knowledge. While these programs might not block every ad you encounter, the chances of you running into something particularly malicious will be reduced dramatically.

7) Remove unsupported software. Many software programs, such as Flash or QuickTime, are no longer supported by their publishers, or are no longer supported by modern web browsers. This means that existing versions can have massive security flaws, despite there being many users who still have the software installed on their computers. It is recommended that users uninstall software that has been abandoned by their creators, especially if it is something that deals with content on the web.

At the same time, many newer pieces of software cannot run on older operating systems such as Windows 98, Windows ME, and even Windows XP. Keep your operating system up to date! When Microsoft stops supporting an old operating system, they stop all updates, which can lead to vulnerabilities being exploited.

8) Don’t talk to tech support scammers. If you’re on the internet and suddenly get a pop-up or email claiming your PC is infected with a virus, and that you need to call a listed number immediately, do not do it! A real security company wouldn’t sell their services from sketchy pop-ups or emails. These companies typically list a 1-800 number for you to call so they can try to lure you into spending potentially hundreds of dollars and giving them remote access to your PC.  More likely than not, they will try to infect you or steal personal information during their remote access “work”.

9) Make sure you are on secure connection when purchasing products online or entering in personal information. You can tell you are on a secure website when the URL reads “https” and not just “http.” This is also referred to as HTTP over SSL which is encrypted. This protects against eavesdropping and tampering. Often, the address bar will change color or display a lock icon next to the URL you are visiting if you are connected through a secure HTTPS connection.

10) Use a firewall. Since Windows XP, every Microsoft operating system has come with a firewall. It is recommended you make sure this is always enabled. If you use a third party firewall, it is also recommended you always keep it up and running. Firewalls use rules and examine network traffic as it passes in and out of your PC. If a connection does not follow the firewalls rules, it will be blocked. This also allows you to monitor activity on your network from intrusion attempts or if rogue software on your PC is trying to reach out to a hacker.

Even the most cautious of people can get infected; however, by following these tips your risk of getting infected or being unable to recover from an infection will go down dramatically. Remember to stay safe, exercise caution, scan regularly, keep everything up to date, and backup your data often.

PUPs and You: How to Identify and Remove Potentially Unwanted Programs

The internet today is just as dangerous of a place as it ever was. Sure, there are plenty of trusted websites you visit on a daily basis that pose little to no risk to your computer. The worst that happens to most people are unwanted tracking cookies from ad servers being placed on their machine, which is a small price to pay for free access to these sites, especially since they are so easy to remove with programs such as SUPERAntiSpyware®.

Today we’re going to talk about Potentially Unwanted Programs or PUPs for short.

What are PUPs?

PUPs live in the grey area of the software spectrum. Sometimes, they can provide a service that you want, such as coupons or the ability to download videos from popular sites like YouTube; however, sometimes the programs that we classify as PUPs can be the underlying cause of unwanted behavior, such as displaying ads, installing other pieces of software, or modifying your web browser’s homepage. 

The most common sources of PUP “infections” are download websites that bundle other pieces of software in with the software that you are really trying to get. Unfortunately, many of the companies that make legitimate software don’t have a say in this bundling of software, as the download host is the one that is making a special installer that will offer up these other pieces of software before you can, or in order to, download and install the piece of software you want.

Many people just click the next button over and over again until they get the software they want installed. The downside to this method of installing software is that you leave yourself susceptible to PUPs on your machine, oftentimes not realizing what has been installed until it is too late. This is what many of these bundled installers are hoping for. They want you to blindly click through so they can get paid for the install of software, as these sites get paid for each piece of software they are able to distribute to end-users, even if they don’t necessarily want what they’re getting.

Once a computer has been “infected” by a PUP, the user may notice some major performance slowdowns or other erratic behaviors. The most common side-effects of PUPs include unwanted or unknown software popping up on your screen telling you there’s a problem, advertisements taking over your screen (either through the web browser directly, or through pop-ups outside the main browser window, system resources being hogged (slowing down the computer), toolbars being installed without your knowledge, and your browser’s homepage being redirected to an unknown/unwanted website.

How can I protect myself from PUPs?

The easiest way to avoid installing PUPs is to make sure that you’re downloading programs from trusted sources (always from the software publisher, if possible), you’re reading each of the screens on install wizards (removing any unwanted options from the installation), and do your research on whether or not the software that you’re looking for is safe and held in high regard by members of the community.

One of the biggest traps that are out there in the wild is the ubiquitous “Big Button”. You have probably seen these before. Say, for example, you’re looking for new media player software to play movies and music. In order to get that software, you go to a file hosting website, and you’re immediately greeted with three green buttons, a red button, and a yellow button, all with the word “DOWNLOAD” in bold capital letters across the center of it. Which one is the correct button to press?

Sometimes reading through the website isn’t enough to show you exactly which button is the real button, and which is an advertisement for another piece of software that’s been embedded near the correct button. Some websites even offer two different versions of the software: one that’s a clean installer, the other is an ad-supported/bundled installer.

This is why we recommend trying to download the software you want directly from the company who makes it. They want you to use their software, so they’re going to make it as easy for you as possible to get what you want. That means no bundled software and no ads that are disguised as download links.

Keep in mind that not all bundled software is bad. Many programs will offer downloads of legitimate products, such as Google Chrome or Dropbox. It’s a common occurrence in the software industry; however, if you’re not familiar with the name of the product a company wants you to install, you should always err on the side of caution and opt out of having that software installed.

How do I get rid of PUPs?

Most PUPs can be removed by going into your control panel and uninstalling them just as you would any other piece of software. In some cases, this unfortunately doesn’t always work. Programs such as SUPERAntiSpyware® try to remove these PUPs before scans, and most of the time we’re successful; however, new PUPs, new malware/spyware threats, and variants of existing threats, are created daily.  

A couple easy ways to try to get rid of these PUPs before running more in-depth cleaning are to make sure you remove any unknown browser extensions in your web browser, and using the add/remove programs feature within Windows.  Typically these PUPs will have their own uninstall files that can easily remove the threat once it is known. As always, make sure you exercise caution when removing programs, as not all “unknown” programs are malicious.

If you think that your machine might have PUPs that you can’t seem to get rid of, or any other malware infection for that matter, the best course of action is to first figure out exactly what you’re dealing with. If there is any distinguishing information you can see (like the program name), do a quick search to see how to remove the program. Most of the time, there will already be a removal guide available for the specific PUP or threat you’re dealing with.

Dealing with pesky PUPs can be time consuming, but remember, the time you take to fix the issue when you first notice it is time you save dealing with a computer that’s been slowed down by these unnecessary and unwanted programs.

Why are you calling <Software Name> a PUP? There’s nothing wrong with it!

There are many different criteria that go into classifying a piece of software a PUP. Keep in mind that the first letter of the acronym stands for POTENTIALLY. If a piece of software you want or use on a regular basis is being detected as a PUP, you’re more than welcome to keep using it or ignore the detection within SUPERAntiSpyware®. 

We try to not remove anything from your machine unless we know that it has un-welcomed side effects. Some of the criteria we use for determining if a piece of software is a PUP is outlined below:

–          The software is known to display advertisements. This covers everything from pop-ups, pup-unders, ad overlays, inserting in-text ads, and replacing existing advertising streams.

–          Hijacking one or more installed web browser. This covers everything from redirecting the homepage (with or without permission), altering search results, inserting bookmarks, installing unwanted add-ons/extensions, and installing toolbars that bring value to the maker rather than the user.

–          Bundling other software. This covers everything from including other software as a bundle (optional or otherwise) with a desired piece of software, being included in a bundle from another software or download site, making it difficult/impossible to opt-out of bundled software.

–          The overall sentiment of the program is bad. This covers install and uninstall trends for particular pieces of software based on reviews and removal guides from trusted sources, using alarmist notifications to trick the user into purchasing, forcing a purchase to clean or fix issues with or without explaining what the issues are, and using misleading uninstallers to either force download more undesirable software or trick users into keeping the software.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it is definitely a good starting point as to why we consider a program as being undesirable. There are plenty of other software review websites out there that will probably echo our sentiments; however, as always, if something is working for you, feel free to ignore the detection.