62% of the Top 50 Download.com applications bundle toolbars and other PUPs

CNET’s Download.com is considered to be one of, if not, the most popular download portal(s) hosting a conglomerate of different software (free and paid). We recently discussed the top ten methods of how toolbars, adware, homepage hijackers and other potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) can sneak onto your computer. Potentially unwanted programs are becoming a new epidemic that users must learn face to overcome on a regular basis. In fact, a recent Panda Security study shows that potentially unwanted programs are on the rise resulting in PUPs now comprising 24.77% of total malware infections.

A lot of potentially unwanted programs are delivered by installers hosted on download portals such as Download.com. But what kind of programs are frequently bundled and should you look out for? And how many of Download.com’s apps actually contain PUPs?

We researched both. First, here is a list of the most commonly bundled PUPs we see through Download.com:

Example 1: MyPC Backup – free trial with pop-ups

MyPC Backup is a commonly distributed potentially unwanted program that can often be found bundled with a wide variety of freeware applications. Once installed, MyPC Backup will nag the user to try and coax them into signing up for a “free account”. Afterwards, it will urge the user to back up their files and folders.

MyPCBackupPUP_150204

The con then comes into play stating that you need to purchase the full version in order to perform the backup. Please, never let appearances fool you: if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Also, expect to be inundated with pop-ups during your free trial period.

Example 2: IObit Products – are IObit products “useful” or “useless”?

Most users have more than likely used one or more of IObit’s free software offerings. Some users may wonder how IObit products are considered to be possibly unwanted. Well, IObit’s clever tactics of bundling one or more of their free software offerings within other similar freeware products is considered to be potentially unwanted. An example of this is: Advanced System Care will install IObit Uninstaller, while IObit Driver Booster may offer to install IObit Malware Fighter.

AdvancedSystemCare_CNET_150127

Plus, do you know if IObit’s privacy policy is one that you want to comply with? IObit has been accused in the past of using shady software development methods. Please be cautious when installing related IObit applications. Consider this: if an application that you may never use is unknowingly installed along with another application, why do you need it on your PC? IObit is also notorious for pushing their paid products by using “in program ad’s” (Activate Now) and questionable promotional and marketing tactics.

Example 3: Pro PC Cleaner – finds fake issues that you need to pay for to fix

Pro PC Cleaner has made its presence known and tagging along with it are its fake results. Pro PC Cleaner uses cleverly deceitful tactics and a colorful user interface in order to give the user a false sense of confidence and security.

ProPCCleanerPUP_150204

Once installed, this “professional” application will pester the user with a conglomerate of bogus errors and misleading display results. Afterwards, Pro PC Cleaner will “claim” that you need to pay money to register the application in order to repair the found “issues”. This software is a definitely unwanted program. If you find yourself facing this rogue like application, removal is highly recommended or you will continue to be plagued by its annoying presence.

Example 4: Skype – frequently bundled with freeware applications

Skype is a very popular application. One might ask: how can Skype be considered potentially unwanted? Skype as an independent application is not potentially unwanted at all. However, the situation with Skype is similar to that as mentioned above with IObit products.

SkypePUP_150204

Skype is bundled with a multitude of freeware installers. If a user happens to accidentally overlook the “I do not accept” or the check box to opt out of installing Skype: it can be considered just as unwanted as Pro PC Cleaner.

Example 5: YTD Video Downloader – more browser modifications than you’d want

Last, but not least, Spigot can be considered the most common potentially unwanted offer that is bundled with the vast majority of Download.com freeware. Spigot is rather nasty because it makes a plethora of browser modifications.

YTDVidDownloaderPUP_150204

Spigot modifies a user’s browser homepage, startup page, search engine and tab settings. As shown in the image above, Spigot also installs various browser add ons. If a user is not installing cautiously, a massive amount of junkware and unwanted changes could befall their browser(s). An offering such as this is definitely unwanted; however, avoiding it is as easy as clicking to decline. Please use definite caution when facing an installer such as this.

Download.com’s Top 50 downloads: what comes with them?

We looked into the top 50 most downloaded applications on Download.com and the various potentially unwanted programs installed with each. Shown below is the list of 50 applications and the bundled PUPs listed next to them. As of February 2015, these programs contain PUPs:

1. Avast Free Antivirus – Dropbox
2. KMPlayer – Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, newtab Aid, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, Pro PC Cleaner, and Wajam
3. AVG Free Antivirus AVG SafeGuard – changes homepage and search engine to AVG secure search, web tuneup
4. YAC (Yet Another Cleaner) – Considered to be a PUP itself
5. CCleaner – Chrome
6. Advanced System Care – Driver Booster, IObit Uninstaller
7. Free Youtube Download – Skype, PC Reviver
8. YTD Video Downloader – Spigot browser extensions – slick savings, browser Error assistant, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, offers to change home and startup pages to Yahoo during installation, and GeniusBox
9. IObit Uninstaller – Advanced System Care
10. Download App – Spigot browser extensions – shopping new tab aid, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, and Pro PC Cleaner
11. 3DP Chip – nProtect, SpeedUpMyPC 2015
12. GOM Media Player – Skype, Clean Water
13. Virtual DJ 8 – NO PUPs
14. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – NO PUPs
15. PhotoScape – Google Drive, PC Mechanic
16. Start Menu 8 – NO PUPs
17. Driver Booster – IObit Malware Fighter
18. VLC Media Player – NO PUPs
19. Ad Aware Free Antivirus – Ad Aware Web Companion – changes home page and search engine to secure search
20. Minitool Partition Wizard – NO PUPs
21. Irfan View – NO PUPs
22. mHotspot – Tuneup Utilities, PC Mechanic, Safer Browser, Clean Water, Driver Max
23. Panda Free Antivirus – Panda Security Toolbar – changes default homepage and search engine to Yahoo
24. Hotspot Shieldchanges default homepage and search engine to HotSpot web search, installs Hotspot shield toolbar during installation
25. Mozilla Firefox – NO PUPs
26. SlimDrivers – MyPC Backup
27. uTorrent – OWSLA Bundle , Skype
28. Virtual DJ 7 – NO PUPs
29. Any Video Converter – offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab aid, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, and Pro PC Cleaner
30. AdwCleaner – NO PUPs
31. PrimoPDF – Open Candy
32. DriverMax – Open Candy, Safer Browser, Tuneup Utilities
33. Daemon Tools Lite – Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab aid, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, Pro PC Cleaner, iCinema, and Bo Browser
34. UMPlayer – NO PUPs
35. Screencast – O – Matic – NO PUPs
36. IObit Malware Fighter – MyPC Backup, Advanced System Care Ultimate
37. Spybot Search and Destroy – NO PUPs
38. FastStone Imager Viewer – NO PUPs
39. Google Chrome NO PUPs
40. VLC Media Player (64 Bit) – NO PUPs
41. 7Zip NO PUPs
42. Kingo Android Root – Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant , search protect, offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, and Pro PC Cleaner
43. Format Factory – Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, and Pro PC Cleaner
44. Media Player Codec Pack – NO PUPs
45. Macrium Reflect Free – NO PUPs
46. AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard Edition – NO PUPs
47. Youtube Music Downloader – Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, and Pro PC Cleaner
48. JetAudio Basic – offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, Pro PC Cleaner, and AVG Toolbar – offers to change homepage and tabs to AVG Secure Search
49. Pandora Recovery – offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo during installation, Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, Pro PC Cleaner
50. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Ultimate Vice City Mod – offers to change homepage and search engine to Yahoo, Spigot browser extensions – shopping aid, new tab, slick savings, Ebay shopping assistant, search protect, and Pro PC Cleaner

To share and download the above research easily, we created a PDF file with our findings. Get it here. Feel free to share!

Conclusion: 31 out of 50 tested Download.com applications bundle PUPs

In conclusion: out of the top 50 freeware applications on Download.com, 31 out of 50 are being bundled with potentially unwanted programs. This means that 62% of the freeware applications on Download.com contain potentially unwanted software. Be sure to use this download portal with extreme caution or else you may risk the possibility of facing a potentially unwanted outbreak.

Here are several reminders on how to stay PUP free:

  • Instead of using download portals, go to the direct vendor website and download the desired software from there. Use caution here as well, because direct vendors can bundle PUPs themselves as well but at least it reduces the risk a little.
  • Read over the terms of agreement carefully.
  • Moreover, read the privacy policy of each bundled program carefully: what do they do with your data?
  • Avoid seemingly suspicious software (free and paid).
  • Uncheck boxes during installation since most PUPs use an opt-out approach.
  • Use an antivirus program that comes with PUP detection, such as Emsisoft Anti-Malware.
  • Do periodic scans for malware and PUPs with the free Emsisoft Emergency Kit, which scans and cleans your computer.

Download and share a summary of the findings here. Have a great (PUP-free) day!

  • Lyle Schroeder

    I would have liked to see a little more precision in writing this article. since I can only comment on the one program that I have any memory of downloading, CCleaner, you merely state that the Chrome browser is bundled, but it is in fact optional. As you show in the YTD Video Download program, there is an Express Option which will download everything but the kitchen sink, and the Custom Option, which after you uncheck everything should not present any problems. So your cautionary list of programs is not a particularly accurate description of what happens at download. I am always surprised at how many people will leave negative comments after they have downloaded a program using the Express Option in regards to all the junk and option changes they experienced. I agree that you need to be smart about HOW you go about downloading from anywhere. Even Adobe is getting into the act with an option to include some Yahoo configuration with Flash! What really bothers me though is when they take advantage of the unsuspecting downloader by saying that the Express Option is of all things, Recommended! The insinuation there of course is that if you aren’t technically inclined, this your best option. Trust our judgment.

    • Wayne Bond

      They repeatedly state that the bundled software is maybe not useless to the user but the fact that it’s sneaked in by the “recommended install” options is why it is considered ‘unwanted’.

      The point is, vendors should make these things open and honest and not try to sneak an install onto a users computer. But 62% of vendors opt to sneak installs in. Not cool.

  • andrzejjajko

    to niech emisoft zrobi poprostu dodatek do przeglądarki albo micro skaner online plików

  • siteXart

    Thank you for outstanding review!

  • Not so Sage anymore

    I always try to go to vender web site first. In past I found “download.com” to be somewhat of a problem when it wanted to install their download management program. Also I use Avast and you can do a custom install and only install what you want. Always choose custom install when offered.

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      Agreed, custom installations are most definitely the way to go. It is still highly recommended ( even for skilled technical users) to always use extreme caution when installing any software.

      • Space_Cowboy_1952

        Spigot and a few others are a nightmare to remove. I unchecked all the options on a recent ‘free’ download, YTD, and it STILL loaded Spigot and a few other searchware, adware, add-ons under the radar. I would like to break a few legs at Spigot for wasting days of my time. The only software I could find to track them down was free trial SPYHUNTER 4. However you have to pay $30 to have the detections removed. The free 30 day licence never connects with the server. I had to track all references down by a slow trawl through REGEDIT and enter each code line (hours of cross-tracking). Cross-referencing
        all the 200+ individual results.

        Spyhunter showed some which I couldn’t even find with regedit ‘search’, so I left those as hopefully disabled when I eliminated the majority. Malwarebytes, for example, didn’t find any of the Spigot club PUPs. Likewise, none of my several anti-virus programs found anything.

        Microsoft’s free ‘Security Essentials’ is a complete waste of time. In all the years I’ve used it, not once has it found anything
        malicious. Even with a PC loaded with creaking junk.

        ‘Spybot, Search and Destroy’ is only slightly better than useless but nothing like what it is cracked up to be on its now-elaborate web site. Certainly not worth a premium.

        Yesterday, by chance, I found thousands of unwanted search cookies in the registry, under ‘zones’. I gave up counting after 40 pages x 45 per page (1800 entries) and I had only reached the letter ‘c’..!

  • One nice and free utility that you can add to your computer which helps detect and block these PUP’s is called Unchecky: http://unchecky.com/ Always using the advanced method of installing every program and reading what’s being installed also helps. Uncheck what you don’t want. Don’t agree to things that you don’t want on your computer. Sometimes, you might have to find another program that does what you want and isn’t loaded with unwanted add-ons.
    Hope that helps. :)

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      Unchecky is an amazing software. Finally, a solution that is solely designed to help users everywhere combat potentially unwanted offers and programs.

  • JaymeH1994

    Reading EULAs are important ,but can be very tedious. I have used a program in the past called EULAlyzer. It scans EULAs and highlights and displays the suspicious lines and paragraphs.

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      Thank you for mentioning this interesting software. It does sound like it would prove to be very helpful in revealing unwanted offers. We will have to check it out.

  • Edward Respalie

    all those my pc cleaners and such are scams

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      You are correct, even most of all of the advertisements on TV concerning “PC Cleaners” are scams as well. This just goes to even further showcase how careful everyone has to be when downloading and installing software.

  • J.H. Steedley

    Hello, all.
    I’ve been caught unawares by these devious tactics, & I’ve been doing this since about ’85.
    Heck, I even know better!
    But sometimes you just forget.
    So I downloaded & installed “Unchecky”, which will automatically uncheck the “option” to install the unwanted add-on “PUP”.
    Since I’ve been using it, its “Unchecked” a number of the “PUPs” that some so-called “freeware” is using as a ‘revenue stream enhancer’.
    For those who still use ‘freeware’, I recommend it.

    Have a GREAT day, Neighbors!

    • Mariska

      Thanks! We heard that several of our users like Unchecky as well. It looks like it works quite good, unless PUPs start to use other methods than opting-out such as opting-in or just download by force.

  • tmrep

    You say that ADW Cleaner comes without PUPS but this is not correct as it comes with a number of other programmes which are quite hard ( for an amateur ) to eliminate.

    • Slade (Emsisoft)

      Adwcleaner does not contain PUPs (even from Download.com). All downloads were thoroughly checked several times over a period of time. Rest assured that the results documented within this article are highly trustworthy and accurate.

    • Mariska

      That’s very interesting, since its goal is actually to remove PUPs. Do you recall what programs it installed and from what country IP? These tests were made in the US, and by downloading it a few times through several methods we could’t find anything. However these downloads were also a moment in time, and they tend to rotate the PUPs in and out frequently. If you have more info regarding this that would be great so we can look into and possibly correct it :)

      • tmrep

        I am sorry but I don´t. I got this over a year ago from someone else and when I installed 4 or 5 programmes came too, which ( stupidly ) I thought were part of the ADW Cleaner and installed them, there was a tool bar and a search engine both of which were quite tough to get rid of but I don´t remember details of any of them.

  • I wrote them a letter… I thought i would share it with you all….
    ————-

    Dear Download.com and CNet,

    You know YEARS ago you became the trusted source for good
    software. You rose up when the internet community needed you. Hell, at one point
    you professed as part of your mission statement as one who would not allow
    spyware or malware in the software you hosted. Now, it seems you are more
    interested in money than safe software. It’s disgraceful.

    I am a 25+ year IT administrator and I deal with your crap
    all the time now. People pay me and trust me for advice and to clean up and
    repair their PC’s. They look to me for advice… and for years I always asked “where did you download it from?” and then I would say “use download.com” for safe
    software…. they have your best interest at heart… YOU HAVE LET US ALL DOWN.

    Now, I am continually uninstalling annoyance-ware, Malware,
    and spyware packaged with your installers and these programs sometimes usher in
    even more PUPs and viruses. Those who once trusted you and by word of mouth drove traffic to your site are now suffering. I AM SEEING IT HAPPEN. You have FALLEN.

    TIS TIS on CNet and Download.com you got greedy somewhere along the way and
    sacrificed TRUST.

    FROM NOW ON BEWARE – WORD OF MOUTH WILL CATCH UP TO YOU. I WILL TAKE GREAT PLEASURE IN WARNING CLIENTS AND FRIENDS TO NO LONGER TRUST DOWNLOAD.COM. Your great popularity built on trust will continue to FALL. Why? Because most people value TRUST. They are going to start asking “how did this crap get on my computer?” and then they will figure it out. It reminds me of that old saying…
    “You Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on ME.”

    PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID.

    Sincerely,

    George Miller

    PS, check out this article:

    http://blog.emsisoft.com/2015/02/26/62-of-the-top-50-download-com-applications-bundle-toolbars-and-other-pups/?ref=ticker150226&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_content=blog&utm_campaign=ticker150226

    They are not telling me anything NEW. I have known about your
    fall for quite sometime now.

    Good luck with your new unethical and misleading tactic that
    screws the public and profits yourself!

  • DrHubert Hechabarria

    There is a needs for an international law introduced, making software companies liable for any free or shareware software that has PUP embedded in their software. I download all my software to save and scan with anti virus software, spyware software prior to installing the software. Plus I take great care to watch is step of the installation to make sure I decline PUP garbage. IOBIT this is not possible, because many of their PUP are hidden and you only see them on your monitor when the primary software you downloaded as completed installation. Thus you must go to your uninstaller software and remove ASAP. (I consider this type of behavior a FEDERAL CRIME WITH THE NEED FOR INTERPOL TO LOOK INTO).

  • Abdullah The Sheik of Tikrit

    I downloaded “Grand Theft Camel” the other day and it tried to install a program called “Jihad Assistant.” I quickly shot my computer with the AK47 and then raided the next village for a new computer. I hate them PUPs!

  • Ryszard Orzel2

    PUPs are not just limited to PCs, but TVs as well.

    I
    recently bought my first ‘smart’ TV and was amazed at the EULA (aka:
    ‘Terms/Conditions’ 347pgs) and associated PUPs (aka: ‘Partner Services’ –
    Yahoo, Adhub, SyncPlus…etc) that came up during installation. Here, as in the
    apps noted above, they recommended that you just select the Privacy Policies
    ‘Express Installation’ (aka: “Accept All”). The other option was to
    “Disagree” with the “Accept All” selection whereby you then got
    to see the multitude of PUPS (recommended Partner Services) that would be installed
    and each had a 30-50 page Privacy Agreement. I expect that soon we will need
    Emsisoft to make an Anti-Malware program for TVs!

    • Mariska

      Very interesting observation, thanks for sharing! Sounds like they found some new outlets :)

  • bobdog19006

    When you see My PC Backup on a machine, take a good look at your start menu for a dozen other related “helpful utilities” and in your program directory for a directory named Conduit, which is a pretty virulent trojan.

    Malware Bytes does a good job of getting rid of most of them, but not all. Look for Search Protect and a dozen other programs that come along with it.

    • Chris Sherlock

      You might be interested to learn that on a number of popular Lenovo laptops Conduit’s Search Protect is bundled with Lenovo Browser Guard. If you have a Lenovo laptop and you run MalwareBytes’ anti-malware scanner, then it will probably pick up that Conduit is installed.

      In this case, you probably didn’t install it yourself. It came preinstalled with the Lenovo laptop.

      • bobdog19006

        I’m sorry to say I’ve made a fair amount of money ridding my customer’s machines of Conduit and its many friends.

        Persistent little bugger.

  • Nina Poppen

    So im using Kingsoft PC Doctor, and im having very good results with it so far. Anyone who can share the same experience ? O am i overlooking something ?

  • whyer63

    A pretty annoying popup behaviour is that W10 suddenly and unasked for starts the installation on W7 machines. Recently due to a faulty manipulation may be I saw W10 suddenly starting to install itself and to stop that I could only quickly power off the pc.