What is a PUP?

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What is a PUP?

No, it's not your neighbor's Schauzer. A Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) is a piece of software that is usually created by a legitimate corporation for some sort of beneficial purpose. (Though, to whom it’s beneficial may be debatable.) So what’s the problem? PUPs can sometimes tamper with the security state of your computer if installed.

PUPs are broken down into six major categories plus an “Other” category. Most PUPs behave similarly to Trojan horses; while, in some cases, the software isn’t designed to do any harm, it can easily be misused for more corruptive purposes.

The Six PUPs


Adware is any software that, once installed on your computer, tracks your Internet browsing habits and sends you pop-ups containing advertisements related to the sites and topics you’ve visited. While this type of software may sound innocent, or even helpful, it consumes and slows down your computer’s valuable processor and Internet connection speed.


Spyware is similar to adware but much more personally invasive. After downloading itself onto your computer through another program you downloaded, an email you opened, or a website you visited, it scans your hard drive for personal information and your Internet browsing habits. Once the spyware finds your email address, it can send you spam and junk emails that clutter your inbox — but it gets worse. Spyware can be broken down into two categories:

  • Advertising spyware: Gathers your personal information and/or shows pop-up advertisements. Even worse, it logs your personal information, including passwords, email addresses, browsing history, online buying habits, your computer’s hardware and software configurations and your name, age and sex.
  • Surveillance spyware: Collects private information using key loggers that track keystrokes as well as instant message and chat sessions, collecting such private information as bank account and credit card numbers. This variety of spyware also includes Trojan horses, which can take control of your computer.

Password Crackers

Software designed to allow you to recover lost or forgotten passwords from accounts or data files are called password crackers. They can be helpful to you as an innocent yet forgetful user, but when in less-honest hands these same useful tools allow access to confidential info and pose a serious privacy threat.

Remote Administration Tools

This type of software is designed to allow remote control of a computer by a trusted and knowledgeable administrator, such as a tech support expert; however, when controlled by someone other than a legitimate owner or administrator, this software can pose a huge security risk.


Dialer software redirects Internet connections to another person’s computer, racking up additional connection charges for you and your Internet provider while providing free Internet access for the cyber thief.


Joke software has no malicious intent or use and doesn’t threaten your security or privacy — but it can be really annoying.


There are several random pieces of software out there, such as FTP servers, that also can be misused to help spread traditional malware.

Cookies are small text files used by many websites to store information about page visits and other settings, which is why a site might remember your username and the fact that you love, love, LOVE Elvis. While most cookies are harmless, some could inherently store personal information about you or track the pages you’ve visited and the ads you’ve clicked on so an advertiser can target your interests.

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Last updated: 06-19-2014
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