Safety concerns have increased with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and Internet access. An awareness of threats, the use of security applications and safe habits can help users manage the dangers they face. Unfortunately, many users encounter threats without recognizing the danger, as is the case with potentially unwanted applications (PUAs), a growing problem in our connected world. What are PUAs? A company called Zango distributed one of the first famous PUAs as part of a targeted advertising scheme. Since then, applications such as hacking tools, spyware, dialers, adware, and remote administration tools have earned the classification as PUAs because they do not have a suitable role for business or personal use. Although these applications usually do not have malicious origins, they can cause security and productivity concerns. PUAs have grown more prevalent and prominent. Some of the top PUAs right now have names that can sound either useful or nefarious: • PUA/InstallCore.diur • PUA/OptimizerPro.RE • PUA/SearchBar.OP • PUA.EpicScale.Gen • PUA/LoadMoney.Gen7 • RDN/Generic PUP.x!b2v These applications have grown increasingly persistent in the way they modify computers and defeat simple removal or uninstallation methods. How does a PUA affect your system? PUAs often spread to computers by piggybacking on a normal software installation. While installing a program that spreads PUAs, users see a check box that gives them the option of installing additional software. Users feel safe installing the program, because they think the software comes from the same developer as the main program they are installing. Sometimes it isn't even that apparent that you can opt out of installing it: Often, computer users only find out that they have been infected with a PUA when their browser mysteriously changes to a different default search engine or homepage. Some might remember what Internet Explorer looked like for the average user: Those are all PUA search bars and extensions that the user had no idea he was installing. The software often also installs adware that randomly displays advertisements to the user. PUAs can also install spyware, such as keyloggers, that steals personal information including passwords and credit card information to hackers who commit identity theft and credit card fraud. Sometimes, the applications install proxy services that redirect Internet traffic from a computer through rogue servers that capture all online activity and data. Avoiding PUAs An awareness of the threat can help computer users can minimize their vulnerability to PUAs. By exercising care while installing programs, and unchecking boxes that offer to install additional software, users can avoid unnecessary risks. Users should also avoid downloading software via torrent file sharing services because they often distribute programs that host PUAs. Also, many legitimate antiviruses and Internet security applications detect, and block known PUA threats, so computer and device users can proactively avoid inadvertent installation of this type of software. Getting rid of a PUA Once a PUA resides on a system, its removal becomes a priority. In some PUAs have standard uninstall options that users can access through the Windows control panel like any other application. Some of the most invasive PUAs deny users the opportunity to remove them. Frustrated users should try installing an antivirus application that offers PUA removal as a feature. The most popular antivirus applications should have that option, and an advanced user is probably already using it. However, if you are a novice, you should definitely install one as it will protect you from more serious malware and not just PUAs. Users can often circumvent browser hijacks by disabling extensions in their browser settings. In Chrome you should click on the hamburger icon in the upper right corner, nagivate to Settings and choose Extensions. You can also just type "chrome://extensions/" in the URL bar. In Firefox you should click on Tools and choose Addons. In Internet Explorer you should click on the cog icon or Alt+X and choose Manage Add-ons. There you can disable any installed extensions or delete them completely from your system. One practical thing about Edge is that it does not support extensions at the moment so you cannot accidentally install any that will affect it. After disabling the PUA browser extension, users should remove it. Users with infected computers should also acquire a registry cleaner from a reputable developer to eliminate all residual traces of their PUA as they can leave marks on your registry, which can in turn allow some other malware to penetrate your system. Conclusion Software companies improve user safety and security by identifying and tracking emerging threats and combating them with their products. Although antivirus and Internet security apps can help keep computers and devices safe, users should understand that new threats emerge in real time, sometimes faster than software companies can provide protection against them. When a PUA gets into a system, they can cause serious problems if not immediately disabled and removed, so users should always exercise caution when installing any software on their computers and devices, to prevent infections.