If you’ve been on the internet more than 5 minutes, then you know that nothing on the internet comes free. Nowhere is that more apparent than a new study which shows that 62% of popular PC downloads come with some type of unwanted program – like a bundled toolbar add-on.

That report comes from Panda Security, which studied the top 50 most popular programs on Download.com

Download.com is run by CNET and hosts a wide range of free and paid software programs. It’s one of the most popular software download sites on the internet and is considered a good source for legitimate free software (i.e. software that doesn’t contain Trojans).

But according to the Panda Security study, a whopping 62% of the top 50 downloads on Download.com contain Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs).

What Are PUPs?

PUPs, or potentially unwanted programs, are a new PC epidemic which come in the form of browser toolbars, free antivirus trials, and pop-up advertisements on your desktop.

Both free and paid software can come bundled with PUPs, but it’s obviously more of a problem in the free software market.

People who develop free software are real human beings with real needs, and it’s understandable that they would want to make money from all their hard work. You can hardly blame them.

Here’s the scariest part about PUPs: they now comprise 24.77% of all malware infections.

Here are some of the most common types of PUPs:

Free trials with pop-ups to convince users to upgrade to a paid subscription

Free software which automatically comes bundled with paid software made by the same manufacturer

PC cleaning software which scans your computer, finds fake system errors, and asks for payment in exchange for fixing them (we’re proud to say PC Cleaner Pro does NOT do this)

Browser spam add-ons which flood your browser with pop-ups, home page changes, and redirects you to malicious websites

Of course, some people consider programs like Skype to be a PUP. It often comes bundled with other software – and some people genuinely dislike it for delivering ads to their screen when they already use other messenger programs.

As you’ll see below, Dropbox is also considered a PUP. They’re called Potentially Unwanted Programs. Not definitely unwanted programs.

Analyzing the Top 50 Most Popular Downloads

Thankfully for all of us, Panda Security went through the trouble of downloading all of the top 50 programs on Download.com and analyzing them for PUPs. Here’s what they found out:

-The world’s most popular program from Download.com is Avast Free Antivirus, and it contains a PUP (fortunately, that PUP is just Dropbox)

AVG Free Antivirus is the third most popular program to download, and it will change your search engine (and home page!) to AVG secure search

CCleaner comes with a PUP called Google Chrome

Yet Another Cleaner, which is the fourth most-downloaded program on Download.com, doesn’t come with any PUPs but is considered a PUP itself!

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, VLC Media Player, Firefox, and Virtual DJ 7/8 were some of the popular programs which came with no PUPs

Daemon Tools Lite, the popular virtual drive creator, was one of the worst offenders on the list. It comes with Spigot browser extensions like shopping aids, new tab aids, “slick savings”, eBay shopping assist, search protect, and it even tries to change your homepage and search engine to Yahoo during startup. It also installs Pro PC Cleaner, iCinema, and Bo Browser. What a jerk.

Ultimately, 31 of the 50 tested programs from Download.com come bundled with PUPs. As a reminder, these PUPs are not typically disclosed before the download, and many users are only alerted to the program after they fire up the browser and find the offending add-on waiting for them.

How to Avoid PUPs During Installation

Avoiding PUPs during installation isn’t always easy. Here are some tips that should help:

Avoid using download portals. You’re safer going to the manufacturer’s site directly. Many download portals look secure, but are often hubs for malware and viruses. Virus makers might upload malicious programs in the form of a more popular program, which makes it difficult even for experienced computer users to spot the difference.

-You know those terms of service you never read? Take a few minutes to read through those terms of service – or at the very least a few seconds. Many software makers are very upfront about how they’re about to screw you over. At least they’re honest.

-Don’t just read over the terms of service – check out the privacy policy as well. Once again, some companies will flat out tell you that they’re selling your information to “third parties at our discretion.” That’s nice of them to say that, but once again you might want to avoid the software entirely.

Uncheck boxes during installation. Sometimes you can avoid all the PUPs simply by unchecking boxes.

Use antivirus software and run it when installing free and paid software from the internet

If you can do those things, you’re much less likely to be affected by malware and PUPs at any point in your life. Good luck out there.

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