When your computer is acting up or driving you crazy, the absolute last thing you want to do is lug it down to the local repair shop. So many cables. So many connections. And why is it suddenly so heavy? It’s stressful just thinking about it! Fortunately, tech support has come a long way in recent years and you now have another option: remote access support.
Just like it sounds, one of our experts will connect to your computer through the internet and fix the problem. You can even watch the entire process on the screen or step away and we’ll call you when the problem is fixed. As long as the computer starts and has a working internet connection, you can simply put your feet up and watch the show! Remote support isn’t just a new technology that lets you stay in your PJs for longer, it’s a better way to approach a huge range of issues, with some pretty great benefits.
High fix rate: While it does sound impossibly futuristic, around 90% of problems can be solved this way, quickly and efficiently. We’re sure you’ve been on the frustrating end of a call-center style support session at least once and can guarantee – remote support is nothing like that. Our technicians don’t ask you to click a hundred buttons and read the screen back, they simply identify the issue and fix it for you there and then.
Location independent: For some people, the best part of remote support is that it doesn’t matter where YOU are either. You could be away on holiday with your laptop, at home with the kids, or under 6 foot of snow in a record-breaking blizzard, and our remote techs can still fix your computer. Fortunately, your computer loves staying where it is. They’re actually more likely to have issues when they’re moved around a lot, so this is the perfect solution. There’s no need to pack anything up, drive across town to drop off and then back again for pickup a week later. Our technicians know you have better things to do, and will remote support you in any way they can.
Complete privacy: Remember how you can watch the technicians move things around the screen? There’s no better way to know your privacy is protected than to see exactly what’s happening. Unless they’ve identified them as the issue, our experts won’t go anywhere near your private files and photos. You don’t even need to move them to a folder marked ‘private’, our technicians are laser-focused on getting you going again and that’s all.
You’re in control: Our technicians can’t access your system unless you allow us to. In fact, we need you to download a special piece of software before our technicians can do anything. Then we call via phone to arrange a time for us to access the computer. If you don’t want to watch and just want it done, perhaps while you’re at work, we can do that too. We’re here to get your computer issues solved, on your terms.
Next time your computer is misbehaving, or you need help setting up a new device or program, let us know. We’ll be able to jump in and get your system moving again without you leaving the house. Our remote support technicians can save you a lot of time and money, not to mention frustration. It’s never been easier to get expert help for your computer issues.
Visit our remote support portal HERE to request a remote support session!
Give us a call today at (651) 456-8655 to get started, or visit our Contact page.
If your typical New Year’s resolutions lasted about 30 seconds, you’re not alone. Pledges to eat better, start running and learn how to juggle can be rebooted again next year easy enough.
This year, we challenge you to think about your tech health with some resolutions you’ll want to keep.
No More Junk Mail
Whether you checked a box agreeing to get newsletters, or you have no idea how you got on that list, it’s time to say goodbye. Start by emptying your mailbox to zero unread messages – no you don’t have to read all that spam – you have permission to delete it unread. Let’s face it, if you were going to read it, you would have done so already. Away it goes.
Now that you’re starting with a clean slate and a huge feeling of accomplishment, resolve this: Each day, unsubscribe from 5-10 lists. Keep an eagle eye out for that gorgeous ‘unsubscribe’ link and click it with confidence. You don’t even need to give a reason if it redirects to a survey page. Before too long, your inbox will be a refreshing place filled only with people and businesses you look forward to hearing from.
Go Password Pro
With all these password leaks from LinkedIn, Myspace, and goodness knows who hasn’t come forward, now’s the time to get smart with your passwords. Because most people use the same passwords on every site, a single breach can be the hack that keeps on giving. You know how important it is to use different passwords for each site, but let’s be real, that’s a LOT of passwords to remember!
Instead of writing them down, we recommend using a password manager like LastPass. It remembers all your various passwords for you, so all you need to know is the super-protected master password. Master passwords are kept encrypted on your system, not theirs, and 2-factor authentication checks with you via text for all big changes.
Backup. No Really, Backup.
I’ve been meaning to backup is the cry of someone who just lost all their photos. Good intentions don’t count AT ALL in data security, because once the data is gone, it’s gone. With new cloud backup options, there’s no reason to put this off, because backup apps are now easier and more accessible than ever before. You can also backup to local drives, but this will take a little extra remembering on your part, as you’ll want to have at least one drive that stays disconnected in case of viruses.
There you have it. Three New Year’s resolutions you can easily keep, and that will make a real difference to your year. Opening your email will be a pleasure, you’ll be a spectator only in any future password leaks, and your precious files will be safe against all manner of disaster. Feels better than any diet, doesn’t it?
If your hard drive is going bad, chances are strange things are happening and you’re a little panicked. It’s where you put your digital memories, your household files and maybe that thesis you’ve been working on for months. As far as you’re concerned, that hard drive IS the computer and failure is not an option. Perhaps it was overheated, knocked around or came from the factory with a flaw.
Sorry to say, but eventually all hard drives will fail. So how do you know if it’s definitely the drive and what should you do?
Start by watching for these signs:
Computer slowing down: Because most hard drives contain moving parts, the slower it gets, the slower your computer gets. It’s a bit like a record player, with spinning plates and a needle whipping from side to side. Your hard drive may eventually take longer to spin up and longer to retrieve files, which will have an impact on everything from booting up to playing games.
Blue screen of death: A classic Windows error, this is when your computer locks up to only show a blue screen with an error code, which while it does mean something specific has gone wrong, can always be translated loosely to ‘nope, not today’. The more often your computer does this, the more severe the problem is.
Not booting up: During the initial bootup stage, your computer is loading a program stored on the hard drive – it’s your operating system. If some of the files have a problem or can’t be found, Windows won’t boot. Errors vary, but the outcome is the same.
Corrupted files: Sometimes a file won’t open because the computer says it is corrupted. Some essential pieces of the file are missing, and unlike a book where a missing page is only inconvenient, it’s a deal breaker for computer files.
Noises: You’re familiar with the normal noises your computer makes, but as the hard drive fails the noises can change. You might hear clicking, grinding or even a sci-fi phaser noise. Noises will get louder or speed up during heavy file access.
Whenever something is clearly wrong, the key is to stop and turn your computer off. Continued use can result in more data loss. Even if you don’t have a backup yet, turn it off now because the large task of backing up can cause extra strain on an already delicate hard drive. It’s tempting to hurry and try to get a quick copy of your files, but in these cases, it’s not about time – it’s about the extra spinning, scratching, warping and electrical charge, all dissolving your precious data with each access.
Bring it to us and we’ll do all we can to retrieve your data. Call us at (651) 456-8655 or visit our Contact page HERE.
Find some additional information by visiting our partner HERE.
These scammers want access to your computer and they’ll do anything to get it!
Chances are, you’ve probably received a random phone call from one of these demanding scammers. Either they’ll call you randomly or you will stumble upon one of their realistic pop-up warnings notifying you that your computer has been infected or hacked and to call Microsoft Technical Support immediately. The problem is, the number they provide is not Microsoft’s. Once you’re on the phone with the scammer, he or she will likely be of East Indian descent. They will direct you to a website to gain remote access to your PC and once they are in, they will run a bunch of bogus tests likely through a DOS prompt to try and get you to believe that your IP/Ports are being accessed by a hacker. This is completely bogus information! These scammers are expertly trained in deploying scare tactics to try to scam you out of your hard-earned money. And they don’t take “No” for an answer. These clowns have even been known to swear at you over the phone before hanging up on you. I, as owner of Twin Cities PC Repair, even received a call from one of these scammers. Now, being that I’m well educated on cyber scams, I decided to play their game for awhile… After wasting 45 minutes of their time listening to the spiel and playing along with it, when they asked me for my credit card so that they may install their software to clean my PC, I told them that I am a IT business owner!! I won’t even repeat what they said to me (LOL) because of its profanity.
What should you do?
The best thing to do if you receive a call out of the blue from one of the Microsoft Support Scammers would be to hang up on them. Chances are they might call you back, and if they do, you can simply call them out on their scam and let them know that you are calling your state and local authorities.
If you happen to stumble upon a website with their realistic and scary looking pop-up, you can do one of four things: 1.) If you can get to the (X) at the top right corner of your browser, simply close out of all browser windows. 2.) If you can’t close your browser windows, you can try rebooting your PC through the start menu. 3.) If you can’t click on your start menu, you can try clicking Ctrl+Alt+Del, click on Task Manager, click on the browser listed and click the End Task at the lower right corner of the dialog box. This will force close your browser. 4.) If none of the above work for you, simply hold the power button down on your PC for 10 seconds. This will force a hard shutdown of your PC. Boot your PC back up and you should be good to go.
As with any pop-up page on the web, there is always a chance that the website might be infected with malware. Always make sure to run a virus/malware scan afterwards with a reputable virus/malware scanner (Preferably on you subscribe to). If you are in need of a reliable antivirus software, please visit our security services page HERE.
Will it ever end?!?
According to Microsoft, from approximately November 2013 through 2016, Client Care Experts victimized over 40,000 people and defrauded these individuals out of more than $25,000,000!! So, what’s being done about these frauds? The FTC is on it! They recently teamed up with the State of Alabama and settled with a handful of technical support companies who were using their scams to impersonate major tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft. A few suspect companies include:
We certainly don’t anticipate these scams ending anytime soon, in fact, they’re growing by the day and they’re finding new and innovative ways to try to con you into believing your personal information is in danger. The best thing to do is to educate yourself on trending scams. Twin Cities PC Repair is constantly investigating a multitude of current scams, so feel free to call us at (651) 456-8655 or send us a message through our contact form HERE if you have any suspicions. We are more than happy to help you! Also, make sure to subscribe to our mailing list below for important news and updates.
Please keep in mind, if you have fallen victim to one of these tech support scams, Twin Cities PC Repair is unable to assist in the recovery of any funds taken from your bank account by the scammer. Please contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately.
The invention of Wi-Fi has been a science fiction dream come true. We can use our laptops anywhere in the house, our phones are using home internet instead of sucking down our cellular data, and our gadgets are all communicating. It’s essentially the backbone of the smart tech boom for home and business alike. Most networks are password-protected with an encryption called “WPA2” and this has been safe and secure, until now. Welcome to KRACK…
Recently, a security flaw called KRACK was discovered that allows hackers to break into Wi-Fi networks – even the secured ones. Your laptop, mobile phone, gaming console and even your smart fridge are possibly vulnerable as a result.
How KRACK works:
The Key Reinstallation AttaCK isn’t a problem with your device or how it was set up. It’s a problem with the Wi-Fi technology itself. The attack gets between your device and the access point (eg router) to reset the encryption key so hackers can view all network traffic in plain text. Since we rely on Wi-Fi so much, this might mean hackers have a front row seat to your credit card numbers, passwords, chat messages, emails, photos and more.
NOTE: The hacker must be in physical range of your Wi-fi to exploit this flaw, it doesn’t work remotely like other attacks we’ve seen recently. Given most Wi-Fi ranges extend well past your own home/business, this is small comfort, but important to know.
How to protect yourself
Run your updates: Software updates are being released which fix the flaw. Microsoft has already released one for Windows, Apple has one coming in a few weeks. Take a few minutes to make sure you’re up to date with all your patches on any device that uses Wi-Fi (your smartphones, laptops, tablets, PCs, game consoles, etc). Unfortunately, some devices may be slow to get an update, or if they’re older, may not get an update to fix this issue at all. If possible, consider using a cabled connection on those older devices or upgrade to one with support.
Be very careful with public Wi-Fi: While your local business center, library or school campus has expert IT professionals keeping guard over your security, it’s a very different matter at your local coffee shop. It’s unlikely small locations such as this will be on top of security patches. Remember, a hacker exploiting this flaw only needs to be in the same Wi-Fi area as you, so be careful you don’t give them a dollop of private information with their coffee.
Check your browser security: Before sending anything secure over the internet, check you’re using a HTTPS site. You’ll know these by the little padlock you see next to the URL, and the address specifically begins with HTTPS. Major sites like Facebook, Gmail and financial institutions already use HTTPS.
Please visit our partner HERE for more information on the KRACK security vulnerability.
If you need help updating your devices, or want us to check if you’re safe, give us a call at (651) 456-8655 or visit our contact page HERE.
Remember how well your computer ran when you first brought it home? It was booting so fast, files were whizzing around at light speed, and no matter how many tabs you had open, nothing was slowing that baby down. It was spotless, inside and out. Then one day you turned it on and everything was so slooooow, taking forever to do anything – and that was only if you could even find your files in all the clutter. All that zip and speed you loved so much was gone! It’s time for a Refreshed Computer…
The good news is you probably DON’T need a new computer, you simply need what we call a “format and reload” to:
Clear the clutter: Over time as you install applications you collect icons, files and options everywhere. They’re not necessary, they’re not used, but they were installed automatically ‘just in case’. It’s a bit like when your overnight guest shows up with a massive suitcase and then claims a shelf in your bathroom. Those applications are making themselves at home in a big way! All that uninvited clutter is slowing your system down and making it hard for you to find the things you need. Simply put, it’s a mess. Our technicians can clean your system back to pristine in no time.
Beat viral overload: Is the virus really gone? Sometimes a virus has multiple layers and can bury itself so deep even your anti-virus doesn’t see it. Despite getting the all-clear from your anti-virus, you might also be seeing the damage from the infection. Perhaps the virus made a mess of your internal file structure, left pieces of code all over the place, or deleted files essential for smooth running. When an infection has been cleared but the system is still running slow, we recommend dropping it into our store asap for a check-up and refresh.
Assess incompatible software: Installing a new piece of software can sometimes produce unexpected results. While your system met the hardware and operating system requirements, maybe it’s simply not playing nice with your other applications. Maybe they’re fighting over the same resources, system files, or clashing with one of your hardware components. Clearly, something isn’t quite right, but you’re not sure what. Our team loves to play detective and get your system back to normal.
Archive older files: Some of your files are definite keepers, long term. Your photos, recipes, accounts etc, they’re all important to keep – but are they important to keep sitting on your desktop? They’re not just slowing your computer down, you’re at risk of losing them in a crash. It’s much safer to archive them to an external drive or cloud storage, simply let us know what you’d like to keep.
What exactly is a computer refresh? It’s like a car tune-up, but more flexible. Rather than tick the boxes saying we’ve changed the oil, cleaned the filters etc, we treat each computer as a unique case. Sometimes we can tune it up in a few minutes, and that’s all it needed. Sometimes it’s worth starting over like day 1.
We can reinstall Windows and migrate your data (photos, docs, emails, bookmarks, etc), putting back only what you WANT to keep. The rest of the clutter that built up over time or piggy-backed on a virus gets flushed away. We can also set up your email and install any devices you need, like printers. It’s doing whatever is necessary to give you a fresh start with your computer, but keeping the essentials.
For more helpful information on how to tune-up your PC for better performance, visit our partner link here: https://www.howtogeek.com/school/pc-maintenance-for-beginners/lesson2/all/
Ready to get back up to speed? Give us a call at (651) 456-8655, or visit our Contact page by clicking HERE.
We all love our Google, quickly finding everything we need on the Internet. It’s replaced dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals, newspapers and in many cases, even doctors. However, sometimes your search results aren’t the real thing and can be downright malicious. Here’s how to search safely:
Pay attention to the URL in Google
Below every result title there’s a URL in green. No matter what the title says, this URL is where your click will take you. Unfortunately, cyber-criminals will often list their site with a familiar and trusted title but link you to their scam/malware pages.
For example, the title could be your bank name (eg, Example Bank), which seems legitimate, but the URL could be www.baabpjhg.com which is obviously not your bank. Sometimes they’ll attempt to trick you by putting the real site into the link too, eg www.baabpjhg.com/examplebank.com which makes it even more likely to catch you when skimming through results quickly. When you visit the page, it might look exactly like your bank’s site and ask for your login details, which are then harvested for attack. While jibberish in the link is pretty easy to spot, sometimes they’ll take advantage of a small typo that you can easily miss. For example, www.exampebank.com (missing the letter L).
Notice Google search results vs paid ads
Google does a pretty good job at making sure the most relevant and legitimate sites are at the top of the list. However paid ads will usually appear above them. Most of the time, these paid ads are also legitimate (and you can quickly check the URL to verify), but occasionally cybercriminals are able to promote their malicious site to the top and catch thousands of victims before being removed.
Believe Google’s malicious site alerts
Sometimes Google knows when something is wrong with a site. It could be a legitimate site that was recently hacked, a security setting that’s malfunctioned, or the site was reported to them as compromised. When this happens, Google stops you clicking through with a message saying “this website may be harmful” or “this site may harm your computer”. Stop immediately, and trust that Google has detected something you don’t want in your house.
Turn on safe search
You can filter out explicit results by turning on Google Safe Search. While not strictly a cyber-security issue, it can still provide a safer Google experience. Safe Search is normally suggested as a way to protect browsing children, but it also helps adults who aren’t interested in having their search results cluttered with inappropriate links, many of which lead to high-risk sites. Switch Safe Search on/off by clicking Settings > Safe Search.
You’d be right in thinking it’s hard to program a computer virus that can spread across the world in a flash – we’re talking days of constant desk-jockey nerd-work. So why do they bother? Well, it generally comes down to 3 reasons: Money, showing off their skill, or to simply being a jerk. While showing off or being a jerk is pretty self-explanatory, the money side is fascinating.
Here’s how people are making money with computer viruses:
Bank account theft: Virus creators are more than happy to help themselves to your bank details, sneaking in to grab your login details or credit card info. They can either transfer your funds away or use your credit card details to go on a shopping spree. Sometimes they’ll leave the fun to another person though, and simply sell your details to the highest bidder.
Ransomware: Rather than a financial snatch and grab, sometimes a virus will encrypt your files and demand money for the unlock code. Without a true backup plan in place beforehand, you’re at their mercy. You’ll be given very helpful information on how to pay, plus a firm deadline before your files are destroyed permanently.
Ad swappers: A cheeky technique, this is when they create a virus that either puts annoying ads on websites you visit, or places affiliate codes on pages so that when you buy something legitimately – eg, from Amazon – they get a percentage as a ‘referral fee’. Their kickback doesn’t make your purchase cost more and you may not even know you’re supporting their activities.
Bitcoin mining: You might have heard of digital currencies being used for payment, but did you know you can also earn them with your computer processing power? Unfortunately, ‘renting’ out your computer’s processing power means paying more in running costs than you’d make – unless you were very clever and sneaky, and used a virus to rent out other people’s computers.
Botnets: Certain infected computers can be remotely controlled to do whatever the virus creator wants. In this case, they’ll usually set the infected bot computers to overwhelm a target web server, like an e-commerce store. Sometimes it’s done as revenge, but more often it’s blackmail. The ‘Botmaster’ says “pay me thousands of dollars or I’ll crash your site during the biggest shopping day of the year.”
Account stealing: Subscription accounts like Netflix and Hulu are often hijacked, leaving you to pay the bill for someone else’s entertainment. But sometimes, virus creators go one step further with online gaming accounts. All those digital items that you fought so hard for (special clothing, weapons etc.) can carry real world value and be stolen from your account and sold on a black market. Yes, that’s cheating!
Give us a call at (651) 456-8655 to make sure your computer is secure and protected.
Should I Upgrade or Buy a New Computer?
Well, it depends – mostly on who you’re asking! A department store salesman will always recommend a new one, but when you get down to the nitty gritty with a trained technician, you’ll often discover you have more (and cheaper) options than you thought.
Start by taking stock of what you’ve got. Sometimes an upgrade simply isn’t worth the trouble and it’s painfully obvious. For example, if your car is 30 years old, demands a constant supply of special fuel and you can see the road whizzing by thanks to the ‘custom’ holes in the floor…it’s time to replace the rust-bucket! However, if your car is decently modern and in reasonably good condition but happens to stall at stop signs, a few quick fixes can be just what the mechanic ordered.
If your computer does need to be replaced, chances are you already know this. But if you’re not sure and some days it could go either way, this will help. We’ve put together a walkthrough of the most common upgrades and the impact they’ll have:
Video card upgrade: It might not be your computer that’s getting old. Instead, games are getting more and more demanding. The days of stick-figure animations are gone and lifelike 3D is the new normal. With that improved experience comes a huge strain on your computer’s resources. If you have a gamer in the house, you can often super-power your computer with a single component – a new video card. For hardcore gamers, it’s actually a necessity, as some new games refuse to install if the video requirements aren’t met. Love smooth animations and responsive gameplay? We know all the best games out now (and in the works) and can match you with the right video card.
Hard drive upgrade: New hard drives are a popular option, both in size and speed. Running out of space is less of a problem now, but speed is a major concern. You’ve no doubt sat there twiddling your thumbs and urging a file to hurry up and copy. Many upgrades are to an SSD (Solid State Drive) that has zero moving parts and can find/transfer data in a flash. They even make booting up lightning fast! And you’ll have the choice of keeping your old drive for general storage, complete with all your existing data.
Memory/RAM upgrade: Some cheaper computers are underpowered from day 1. In truth, most of the ones in the department store could use at least an extra 4GB of oomph! Sometimes though, even a great computer falls behind as new applications come out and need more resources. Adding extra memory can revive your existing computer and set it up for a couple more years of happiness.
Where to draw the line: There are other upgrades such as the CPU, which is basically the brains of the computer; and the motherboard that all the parts plug into…but once you’re in that territory, it really is time to go for a full replacement. You’ll save money by getting a computer that meets your needs and can grow with you.
Is your computer letting you down? Give us a call at (651) 456-8655 to help you with upgrading or selecting a new computer
URGENT ALERT: 143 million Customers Exposed in Financial Data Breach
Credit reporting company Equifax has just revealed that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions across the US, UK & Canada. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – this isn’t one of them. The sensitive nature of the exposed data now requires immediate action for all those even possibly affected.
The short version: Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults in the country, plus pretty much anyone who’s lived/worked in the US. We’re talking social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ license, credit card numbers…the big stuff. On July 29, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in the web application from mid-May to July of this year.
If you’re an Equifax customer: As scary as all that sounds, what’s done is done. Equifax, cyber-security experts & law enforcement officials are on the case, working to minimize the long-term damage.
The best action now is to protect yourself against fallout:
Go to: http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if your data may have been affected. There was some news that this site was delivering random results, but Equifax announced it has been corrected. At this stage, it’s safest to assume everyone with a credit history has been impacted, so unless that link gives a definite ‘no you’re safe’ response, continue with the following recommendations.
Claim the Equifax free year of credit monitoring & identity theft insurance (if you’re a US resident). If you’re not eligible, consider sourcing your own. As the hacked data will continue to circulate for some time, also consider extending your credit monitoring for a few more years.
Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts. Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.
Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long. Any of the stolen data may give hackers a free pass into the rest of your bank accounts, email and personal information.
Add two-factor authentication where possible. This is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes – getting the password correct isn’t enough, the hacker would also need to get the special code sent by SMS.
Consider freezing your credit report. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze.
Need help with your passwords? Give us a call at (651) 456-8655 or email us HERE
We have seen a concerning trend that is about to spiral out of control: Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) are further on the rise. What’s even more concerning is how they are spreading. After big vendors as Oracle (Java) and Microsoft (Bing and Skype) started bundling, now antivirus vendors have joined the game. We did research on some of the most popular PUP practices among the freeware antivirus vendors, and the results are quite disturbing.
PUPs want to get on your computer to make money off of you
First, lets quickly recap what PUPs are and why they’re spreading like wildfire. PUPs are programs in the form of toolbars, adware, plugins or other downloads that sneak onto your computer. PUPs are not classified as malware (yet?), since they’re not always harmful but pretty much always annoying, hence the name “potentially” unwanted. But, PUPs are getting more and more unwanted than ever: just the fact that you don’t know what you’re installing is undesired. If you notice a sudden change in your computer’s speed, notice your search engine changed, experience annoying pop-up ads, notice new toolbars in your browser menu bar or any other sudden change in your computer’s behavior or layout, chances are high that your computer has one or more PUPs installed.
PUPs come in many shapes and forms, but they all have a few things in common:
PUPs want to make money off of you. PUPs want to be on your computer for a reason, to make money off of you. The most common form is by hijacking your browser: they can then show you ads, monetize or sell your search and/or browser behavior or redirect your homepage.
PUPs use aggressive distribution methods to get on your computer: we specifically used the word “sneak” onto your computer, because in the large majority of the cases, the user is not aware that he/she is installing a PUP.
Most PUPs don’t have any significant value or advantages, so PUP producers have to get around this by paying other software vendors or distributors such as download portals $$$ per new installation that they get them.
PUPs are often brought to you by freeware vendors: they frequently get on your computer bundled with a freeware program. While you’re installing program A, you also install one or more PUPs, often without knowing you did. The freeware vendor gets money from the PUP producer to do this, up to $2 per install.
Danger! Do not try this at home: download the top 10 apps on Download.com
PUPs are not new. But its a very alarming trend that more and more large freeware vendors and distributors, such as download portals, are distributing PUPs in high volume – all in exchange for quick cash. Even Sourceforge, a hosting platform for open source projects, started to add PUPs to their downloads, without the consent of the developers who run their projects there. Tech website HowtoGeek recently showed what happens when you download the top 10 listed apps at Download.com ranked by download volume:
“We installed the top 10 apps from Download.com, and you’ll never believe what happened! Well… I guess maybe you might have a good guess. Awful things. Awful things are what happens. We’ve been railing against freeware download recommendations for years, so we thought, why not have some fun and see what really happens if you download software like a regular clueless user might?”
The result of this test: ALL the top 10 apps on Download.com come with bundles or PUPs, some loaded with them. HowtoGeek even recommends users to not do this at home on your primary PC, unless you want to make your computer a “smoking pile of useless.”
Antivirus programs have joined this nasty game too
Now, here is the top 10 Download.com list that HowtoGeek used for their test:
Does anything stand out to you on this list? There are two antivirus programs on there! Ethics in the software industry seem to be lost completely when even antivirus vendors bundle PUPs with their software. Now look at the download amounts in the above screenshot: up to one million downloads a week. Add to that downloads from other sources, and the fact that PUP producers are willing to pay anything from a few pennies to USD$2 per install, and it can give a rough idea how much money there is involved in this business: thousands if not millions of $$$. We learned that before as well when Emsisoft got approached for a similar PUP bundle deal.
Fact: 7 out of 8 tested free antivirus suites bundle with PUPs
We decided to further look into this and test other free, full antivirus suites. For reference, we downloaded the products in the test directly from the source (vendor website) and not from a download portal. The results are pretty shocking:
All tested free Antivirus programs come with toolbars or PUPs of some sort – except Bitdefender Free. A lot of them have a “rebranded” Ask toolbar that generates considerable pay per install (PPI) revenues while they’re labeled as part of the vendors own security solution. Some disclose they use Ask (for example Avira), others like AVG go as far as adding pops with coupon deals.
Antivirus programs are supposed to protect your computer from viruses, yet many of them give you a questionable program during installation, without clear disclosure. Below is the list of 8 free antivirus programs and the type of PUPs they give you during installation at the time of posting. Please note that we only included full antivirus suites, not scanner-only products.
Bitdefender Free: as mentioned before, Bitdefender Free is one of the only clean antivirus vendors that does not come with any PUPs.
Comodo AV Free: changes home page and search engine provider to Yahoo during the installation process, unless the user unchecks the box.
Avast Free: offers Dropbox during installation by default, unless you uncheck the box. No toolbars are installed.
Panda AV free: installs Panda Security toolbar, yahoo search takeover and MyStart (powered by Yahoo) home page takeover. No product rebrands, at least the installer is clear that both are Yahoo products.
AdAware free: installs WebCompanion by default unless user unchecks the box. Also installs Bing Homepage takeover and Bing search takeover by default, unless opted out. Discloses that AdAware offers these programs to keep the software free.
Avira free: offers Dropbox after installation. Takes over search with Avira Safe Search, which is a a white-labeled version of the Ask toolbar. Avira does disclose that it partners with Ask, and states that it “chose Ask.com to be our partner in bringing you the SearchFree Toolbar because Ask.com is one of many vendors whose products offer functionality which we believe our users will value”.
ZoneAlarm free AV + Firewall: with Custom Install: Zonealarm homepage and search takeover.This is a rebranded Ask toolbar, which is not mentioned on ZoneAlarm’s website.
AVG free: installs Web Tuneup, including AVG SafeGuard. Sets AVG Secure Search as homepage, new tab page and defaults search engine. Toolbar is Ask powered, although this is not explicitly stated. Also offers AVG Rewards, which displays popup advertisements with coupons and deals.
Popular ways for free Antivirus programs to make money with PUPs
Looking at the above screenshots, we can see that the antivirus vendors have a few popular methods to make money with PUPs:
Search Engine Takeover: you now set your default search engine to the software vendor’s choice, there’s big money to make there. Just look at this company called Google.
Ask Toolbar: do a quick search on Google for the Ask toolbar, and you’ll learn quickly why the first results page is full of “How to remove the Ask toolbar” and “How to get rid of the Ask toolbar”.
Rebranded Ask Toolbar: even worse than the Ask toolbar, the rebranded version is a white-labeled Ask toolbar where the software vendor gives it a different name and look, while it’s just the Ask toolbar in disguise.
Homepage take-over or new tab: “free” guaranteed traffic to a website anyone?
Your data, search and browser behavior: it is not known what antivirus vendors do with your data. It is known that they are watching you and track you. Do you trust whether they do anything with this data? Tracking and selling browser data and other personal information has been a big business for years in the internet industry, so who knows.
What’s disturbing about all the methods these antivirus vendors use is that in the majority of the cases, the PUPs are included in the default intallation, unless a user opts out or reads the small fine print. Sometimes the PUP install is not disclosed at all, or hidden. It’s rarely explained what the installed PUP actually does, if anything. Questionabletactics to get onto computers of unknowing users.
When the product is free the real product is YOU
As HowtoGeek states as well, it doesn’t matter what download site you use. The people that make the freeware are the ones bundling. Some download sites bundle on top of that but it’s not the root of the issue. They’re a player in the game. As HowtoGeek states it in their article:
“There are also no safe freeware download sites… because as you can clearly see in the screenshots in this article, it isn’t just CNET Downloads that is doing the bundling… it’s EVERYBODY. The freeware authors are bundling crapware, and then lousy download sources are bundling even more on top of it. It’s a cavalcade of crapware. Each time we ran through this experiment over the last few months, different software would end up being bundled in a rotation, but every single software that bundles itself ends up bundling the same culprits: browser hijackers that redirect your search engine, home page, and put extra ads everywhere. Because when the product is free the real product is YOU.”
Do freeware users “enable” the PUP business?
Let’s clearly point out that not all freeware is bad and relies on PUPs, but the good ones have unfortunately become an exception to the rule. The few examples of good freeware are:
Trimmed down versions of full products. where the free version gives an idea of the product and provides basic functionality while the vendor tries to sell a higher edition of the same software.
The open source community. where people create software for fun or to help make the world a better place. Although this is a tricky one: sometimes others use open source projects to add PUPs by fake imitations.
Projects that live off donations, although these have become rare.
The rest of the freeware vendors need to resort to software bundles to make money. Are people enabling the growth and distribution of PUPs by continuing to download this freeware? In a way yes, but you can’t blame them really. Most of them just think a free piece of software sounds like a sweet deal, but have no clue what it may come with. At most you can blame them for the fact for not looking into why a piece of software is offered at no cost.
PUP producers know that what they do is misleading, freeware vendors know PUPs are highly questionable and antivirus vendors for sure know that it’s unethical. Therefore, all these players will go great lengths to hide the fact that they are bundling PUPs. They will make sure that they fulfill the legal requirements sharp, but use any possible way to increase the spread of those unwanted programs. The fact that vendors are willing to put their ethics aside and their reputation at risk for quick cash, says a lot. PUP distributors are taking advantage of the average “unknowing” computer user.
Conclusion: be careful with freeware, paid software usually doesn’t come with PUPs or bundles
The amount of PUPs will spread further and they will become nastier and sneakier in form if people don’t take action. The only way to make a change is collectively. Even if you are a PUP-free antivirus user, you are affected by the rapid growth of PUPs. You will hear about them more, see them blocked more, see more and more signatures updated to your antivirus program to detect all the different types of them. For example, Emsisoft’s malware analysis team now spends half of their overall analysis time on PUPs, while we could spend this time towards other resources and other types of malware to protect you from other internet threats. At least, users need to demand full disclosure so that theyare given a chance to make a conscious choice whether they want to download a piece of software or not, and so that they know what they are downloading. Bottom line is, be careful with freeware, paid software usually doesn’t come with any PUPs or software bundles.
Did you ever find PUPs on your computer? Are you surprised by these PUP practices and the fact that freeware and antivirus vendors participate? Share your opinion and leave a comment below.
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