There are three types of software that can creep onto your computer, each type more ninja-like than the one before it: The Barnacle Download, the Pop-Up Download and the Drive-By Download.
The “Barnacle” Download
When you download software that you actually want, sometimes it comes packaged with other software. For example, if you download “Adobe Reader,” you might notice that “McAfee Security Scan Plus” will also be installed unless you uncheck that option. The extra software installed by this method isn’t necessarily malware, it’s just extra software running on your computer, potentially slowing it down.
Spotting the barnacle download:
Read through the install screens of software you’re purposefully installing to see if any additional software will be automatically installed; uncheck any boxes for software you don’t want or need.
The Pop-Up Download
Have you been to a website where a window pops-up asking you to install a “video codec,” an “audio plug-in” or maybe the pop-up says you have a virus? The purpose of these pop-ups is to get you to agree to install spyware or malware disguised as “helpful” software.
Recognizing the pop-up download:
Beware of pop-up windows asking you to install things that you didn’t ask for or aren’t sure of. If you didn’t ask for it, close the window.
The Drive-By Download
This is done by exploiting a browser plug-in, like Java, so that the install procedure is nearly or completely invisible. Typically the worst pieces of malware are installed this way.
Preparing for the Drive-By:
Use a program like Web of Trust, which will give you an idea of the reputation of websites and stay away from shady ones. If possible, don’t use Java; apply Windows updates and software updates regularly.
What if it’s already been downloaded and installed?
- Try to uninstall it. While you’re looking at the list of programs to uninstall, check for any toolbars, antivirus programs, or optimization/clean-up software that you didn’t install or don’t need and uninstall them.
- Download and install antispyware/antimalware software such as SuperAntiSpyware or Malwarebytes. Run routine scans on your computer and remove any malware found.