We’ve all seen it; maybe it’s on your own computer, or that of a friend, your spouse, child, or parent. Your home page has been changed to some search engine you’ve never heard of, there’s a new, annoying toolbar in your browser. Maybe you’re getting popup ads or have a rogue security product claiming you’re infected and asking you to buy the program to remove the infection. Even worse, you don’t know how it got there! Welcome to the world of Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs.) Chances are that these programs were inadvertently installed while installing software from sites that use “download managers” that add additional software to otherwise free downloads.
Many of these “download managers” and the additional applications
they install use a Pay Per Install business model that is often used by
unscrupulous individuals that use various techniques to trick you into
clicking on their sites rather than the official download site for the
software you’re attempting to download. These techniques include using
advertisements on search engines and various Search Engine Optimization
(SEO) techniques to get their sites to show up before the official
downloads in search results. We’ve even seen fake image upload sites
whose sole purpose is to direct you to a page that looks like an
official download page for a program but uses one of these “download
So how do you avoid
these “download managers?” It’s actually pretty simple. Whenever
possible, download software from the software company’s official page
(this is not always possible since some software is only available
through third-party download sites.) As mentioned earlier, some of the
most popular techniques to get you to install software using these
“download managers” is through ads and SEO techniques on search engines,
so we’ll show you how to locate the official download links in search
results from Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
For this example we’ll search for the popular voice and video chat program Skype by searching for “download Skype.”
With Google it is rather easy to spot the official download link
since the advertisements are clearly marked, and the first actual result
is the official download link:
Let’s have a look at Bing next. Since both Skype and Bing are
Microsoft products, the first two search results are for the official
For a better example of Bing results, let’s search for Adobe Reader
by searching for “download adobe acrobat reader.” This one is also
pretty easy to spot since the ads are clearly marked.
Now let’s have a look at the results for “download Skype” on Yahoo.
Once again, the ads are clearly marked and the first actual result is
the official download link.
Looking at these search results, you’ll notice a few things in
common: The top results are all ads, and none of the ads point to the
official download links, and the first actual link that is not an
advertisement is the official download link. While this will not always
be the case, it is common, and fortunately the three search engines we
used in this example all do a very good job at identifying their
advertisements. Does this mean that all ads are bad? Of course not! But
when looking to download free software, the ads may not be your best
choice. Also pay attention to the URLs, the official downloads are all
on “skype.com” domains, while all the adds point to other domains.
Now you should have a better understanding of how some of those
unwanted toolbars and search pages ended up on your computer, that
clicking on the top result on a search page may not be the best way to
go about downloading free software, and how to find the official
download links for software on some of the most popular search engines.
Pass this information onto others, and maybe you’ll save yourself a trip
to a friend or family member’s house to remove an unwanted toolbar.