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Avoiding “Death by Toolbar”

One of the joys of the internet is the incredible array of free software to deal with just about anything you need to do. Unfortunately this free software often comes with some baggage  – additional junk software that gets installed at the same time.  Even big name companies try to make a little extra money on the side by hoping you won’t notice the additional adware, trialware and other nonsense that will get installed with the software you actually wanted. Toolbars will be added, your search settings changed and probably your home page will be hijacked as well. At best all this slows your browser down, and at worst it can make your internet activities unreliable and even stop the browser working altogether.

Toolbar overload

Fortunately, in many cases, you can avoid most of these problems with just a little care and attention during the installation.

Toolbars – where do they come from?

Beware the pre-checked box
Whenever you install new software, there are usually a few windows which pop up where you have to click “OK” or “Next” to continue. That software license that you never bother reading, some option to have an icon on the desktop – that sort of thing. It’s all too easy to be impatient and go click click click until the software is ready to run. Slow down! This is where you need to be vigilant.

One example which catches many people is that Java update which seems to pop up all too often. If you have Java installed then keeping it updated is a good idea, but watch carefully for the ASK toolbar option which will be pre-checked by default:

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Those check boxes just need to be un-checked and you can then continue the update without the extra toolbar and a change to your search provider.

When installing any software, keep your eyes open, and don’t stop looking after only one window. Some of the worst examples of this behaviour can offer three or four windows, each trying to install software that you don’t need or want, and those check boxes will always be pre-selected for you. Uncheck them all and eventually you should get only the software you wanted in the first place.

Toolbars – how to get rid of them

But it’s too late, the damage is done!
So now that you know what to do in future, but what if the computer is already infested with unwanted software and toolbars? Fortunately, there is help available from programs specifically designed to clean up the mess. The free JRT (Junkware Removal Tool) can be dowloaded from the author’s website here, and is the simplest to use as it just needs to be run. Alternatively, AdwCleaner gives more control over the process, allowing you to scan and then select each item to remove. AdwCleaner is also free and can be downloaded from the French host site here or from the excellent bleepingcomputer.com website.

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Prevention is better than cure
If you are the one supporting friends and family, you know they probably won’t be as careful as you when installing software. What is really needed is a way of protecting their computers from being taken over by unwanted software, in spite of what they might download. It’s not an easy thing to do, but one solution available via AdwCleaner gives a way to block the web sites of well known sources of junk software. The idea was developed by French anti-malware site www.malekal.com and uses the Windows HOSTS file to prevent access. Windows checks the HOSTS file for URL matches before going to the web, and if it finds a match, goes to the IP address listed in the file. Malekal has compiled a list of domain names of places to avoid, and using this list in the HOSTS file neatly redirects the request back to the computer’s own localhost address, 127.0.0.1, rather than the actual site.

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You can just copy the list into your HOSTS file manually, or there is software on the Malekal site which will do it for you, and keep the list up to date by regularly checking back with the site for the latest list.

A link to this software can be found in the AdwCleaner Tools menu:-

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Once installed, future junkware will be blocked and the system should stay free of unexpected toolbars and browser hijacks.

 

About the author - Neil Harrison
Neil has had a long association with computers starting in the 1970's with DEC minicomputers for the British army, moving to a self-built Z80 computer with CP/M and then to the inevitable PC with DOS and Windows 3.1 through to Windows 8. Mostly a hardware guy, but passionate about all aspects of computers, Neil now runs Tekwise, a computer repair company for home and business users in London, UK.
 
Comments

I downloaded Cute PDF Writer that wanted me to install the Ask Toolbar. I unchecked the check boxes, but the toolbar installed anyway, Needless to say, I was furious! So just because the boxes are unchecked, you may get that sneakiest of installs anyway. I will no longer recommend Cute PDF Writer.

Martha

Thanks Neil,
A great article, good to know that the good guys are working hard to defend the ‘not so savvy’ computer users from toolbar attacks.

The following video might drive this topic home:
http://youtu.be/8LCEbhnRy8s

Be warry of that link… its not a genuine uTube link.

That’s just a shorter form of it; it’s what you get when you’re publishing a video and YouTube gives you a link to share it.

Beware Softpedia!!! Recommend Revo Uninstaller to dig deep into the system, be surprised how much rubbish this download site installs.

How did download.com not get mentioned here?

Receive our weekly update via email? Doh!

I tried to run the Junk Removal Program (JRT). Contrary to the article noting you only have to “run” it you are in fact required to download it, which I did. Unfortunately after downloading I cannot find where it has hidden itself, and this after I had even done a file search. So now I have bit more useless information or should I say program cluttering up my computer.

Norton found “WS.Reputation.1″ and does not let to download.

CNet has become really bad for this sort of activity unfortunately. I recently got some office freeware & even though I unticked all 6windows of crapware I STILL got 2 things which installed anyway. I have spent several days getting rid of snap.do which seemed to keep reinstalling itself. Obviously it then got sick of me trying to get rid of it because it hid itself but would appear when I opened google chrome. Finally today I discovered a thread on CNet forums about it but the uninstall site was useless so I had to email snap.do to get their help. 7emails later hopefully it is gone until next time I want freeware & even though I will make sure I untick all the boxes I know that won’t help & the crapware will come in uninvited. }:^/

I ran your suggested JRT program and it did seem to remove a ton of CONDUIT junk (files, registry entries, etc…). However, I did a search on CONDUIT after it ran and there still seems to be a bunch more of CONDUIT junk left on my PC. When I go to the JRT site (http://thisisudax.org) I cannot find a way to contact the author (although other comments are listed so there must be a way). It appears to be a worthwhile tool so do you know how to contact them?
Thanks,
Dan

Dan – sorry, I missed your message. There has not been much activity on this thread recently. I agree the author doesn’t make it easy to contact him, and I have never tried myself. He does have a Blogger site and a Youtube channel under the ‘thisisu’ name so maybe he can be messaged through those channels.

Blogger: http://thisisudax.blogspot.com/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubG5Lq-JPb8

Hope that helps you track him down,

Neil

Neil – do you ever reply to your messages?

Neil,
Thanks for your reply and your very informative article.
Dan

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