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Stop software hijacking your computer

April 28th, 2014

Martin

Every week, I get calls from people who’s computer has been hijacked. Their favourite search engine is covered in adverts, or there are pop-ups stopping them browsing. Many of these problems are caused by software sneaking onto your computer when you’re trying to install something useful.

I’m going to show you how to stop yourself being a victim.

This blog post is part of the Know Your Screen series, helping you to keep tabs on what’s appearing on your computer, and helping you remove it if you don’t need it.

It’s important to realise that you’re not the only victim here. It’s easy to blame the software maker for including dodgy additions to their software, but they’re not always at fault, as we’ll see, and it’s crucial to know who’s trying to trip you up.

The offenders

The problem stems from the installation of extra (unwanted) software alongside something you installed on purpose. The most likely software to turn up uninvited are:

  • the Ask Toolbar;
  • the Conduit Search Engine;
  • the Babylon Search Engine;
  • AVG tools of various kinds.

These things are all trying to either make money from extra adverts they serve up, or want you to buy something you never knew you wanted (after convincing you that you do). They slow down your PC unnecessarily, and distract you from your work and play.

So how do you avoid them?

Be vigilant

Here, I’m going to walk you through the installation of a piece of software I use called PowerISO. It’s not so important to know what it does, but it’s a useful tool in my line of work, and does its one job well. But when you double-click on the downloaded program…

installation

This screen pops up as you install PowerISO

What’s this? “SEARCH PROTECT”? “Agree&Install” (sic)?

And then the next screen:

Software 'recommended' by PoweISO

Software ‘recommended’ by PoweISO

I’m not even sure your can ‘Decline’ the offer, like you can in the previous screenshot (if you look carefully!).

So what happens when you agree to all this extra stuff? Well, for a start you get this from your default browser (here, Google Chrome):

    Your web browser thanks you for installing something (click for larger)

Your web browser thanks you for installing something (click for larger)

And then this in Internet Explorer:

BrowserHijack

This isn’t my search page! (click for larger)

And notice the AVG message popping up in the bottom right, and a light blue magnifying glass icon where there was none before.

I don’t remember agreeing to this!

The maddening thing is that the AVG Tune-Up product is actually Tune-Up Utilities, which is a very useful (paid-for) product that I recommend (get the latest version from the Tune-Up website for £29.99). But the version downloaded here has sneaked onto your computer, and is a one day trial. One day! Thanks, AVG!

Stop the madness

There’s little you can do to stop the various parties involved from bundling this useless software together, but there are a few tips for you to avoid gumming up your computer with it:

  1. First of all, be careful where you download a product from. Your best bet is its own website. Sometimes, third-party websites bundle free software with their own additions, so be careful where you click in the Google search results. However, that wouldn’t have saved you in PowerISO’s case, because the extras were there even though I downloaded it from www.poweriso.com.
  2. Don’t just quickly click ‘Next’ through software installations. You don’t have to read everything, but keep on eye on headings and descriptions, to see what’s on offer. This is your best defence.
  3. Boycott the software. This might or might not have the desired effect, depending on who does it, but also, as we’ve seen, it’s not always easy to tell who’s to blame: the software program, the download site, to add-on creator? And, Like Tune-Up, it’s not always malicious, even though the likes of Conduit serve no-one but themselves.
  4. Use Unchecky. This is a program which runs in the background, waiting for you to install something. It gets its name from the fact that it unchecks (in the American sense – i.e. unticks) the boxes which agree to extra software. It’s not guaranteed to work 100% of the time, but it might spot something you don’t. Here’ what it thought of the offer from Conduit:
Unchecky Pop-up message

Unchecky Pop-up message

The AVG offer didn’t even appear when Unchecky was running. Now there’s peace of mind.

Getting rid of the problem

Once these things are installed, some are easier to remove than others. Most just need removing via the Control Panel under ‘Uninstall a program’ (Windows Vista, 7 or 8) or ‘Add or Remove Programs’ (Windows XP). Others are more hardy, however, needing settings changing in the affected browsers, or even adventures in the Registry.

So if you feel a bit daunted by this, give Ship Shape PC Repair a call, and I’ll be able to get rid of all this junk for you!

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