Picture this: you’re browsing the internet and come across an interesting looking app. You download and install it, everything seems fine… but then you notice that your computer or smartphone is running slower than usual. Also, you’ve been getting annoying pop-up ads that weren’t there before. You even find that there are several new apps on your device that you didn’t download.

Situations like this are surprisingly common, as there is plenty of software available to download that isn’t fully on the up-and-up. It is important to be aware of this unwanted software, as it can negatively affect your internet-connected devices and potentially expose you to viruses. But how can you identify these annoying and possibly dangerous apps beforehand?

What Kind of Apps Should Be Avoided?

When talking computer and smartphone apps, you can place most of them in one of three categories: clean apps, potentially unwanted apps (or PUA), and malware. Clean apps are any application that is useful, trustworthy, and free of any potentially harmful behavior. Obviously, this the type of software you should be sticking with. PUA are applications that aren’t malware but have other unwanted features and can do things with your device or data that you probably don’t want. Malware is outright harmful software like viruses that can damage your device or steal your personal information.

While the dangers of malware are upfront, the harmful effects of PUA are often less obvious. They often operate in the background, causing your device to run slowly. Sometimes this comes down to poor optimization, but many PUA use computers and smartphones to mine for cryptocurrency, which can be taxing on your CPU. Additionally, PUA is often bundled with other software, so even if a specific piece of software doesn’t seem so bad, it might come with something far more harmful.

How Can I Stay Protected?

There are a few steps you can take to reduce the changes of downloading unwanted software:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources, such as the Microsoft Store or Apple Store, and be thoughtful about which apps you install.
  • If you haven’t heard of an app before, look it up before downloading or installing it.
  • Keep your device up-to-date with the latest updates for your OS, browser, and apps.
  • Make sure you’re running a reputable and regularly updated antivirus product.
  • Use a modern browser, such as the new Microsoft Edge. Microsoft Edge uses Microsoft Defender SmartScreen, which helps block potentially unwanted apps.

Also, if you are using a computer with Windows 10, you might want to use the “reputation-based protection” feature, which is designed to point potentially unwanted apps and malware, giving you the option stop any suspicious software that it spots. “Reputation-based protection” is switched off by default, but you can access it under “App & browser control” in the Windows security app.

What Should I Do If I Already Have Unwanted Software?

Depending on how stubbornly designed it is, PUA can be either very easier or rather difficult to get rid of. The first option is to simply uninstall like any other type of software. In Windows 10, this is done by going to the “Apps & features” section of your Windows settings (called “Add or Remove Programs” in older versions of Windows). You should also run a scan of antivirus software and see if it picks up anything.

Some unwanted apps are designed to be difficult to remove however, so you might need to go a bit further. Going into safe mode on startup will give you safer environment to deal with some Windows problems, including removing stubborn programs. If Windows itself can’t do it though, there are third-party programs designed to force stubborn software to uninstall. However, you need to be certain that the uninstaller is trustworthy beforehand, so keep that in mind. If all else fails, Microsoft allows you to submit files to them in order to determine if they are a threat.

While browsing the internet, you’re likely to find a variety of interesting software available but remember that even a seeming innocuous app can have undesirable side effects. Take the advice that we’ve provided to heart though and you rest certain that you won’t end up with potentially unwanted apps on your devices.