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We are going to tread carefully and examine two areas of PC ailments. We will strive to make this more understandable and to provide effective and free solutions for both.  If you look at how Microsoft deals with these categories you will find that they admit these two areas are not mutually exclusive and certain terms are used interchangeably.  For our purposes we want to be more definite so that we can pinpoint what steps you need to take in order to deal with these items if you are or ever have experienced them.  This article also assists you in preventing them from happening, provides free tools, and outlines the steps to get rid of both types.

How could a PUP be unwanted?  Well, in this case, we are not referring to a fluffy, playful dog or even Power Pup the Office Assistant.  We’re referring to a term that is increasingly being used to describe Potentially Unwanted Programs.  We are likely all too familiar with a virus infection; your PC becomes infected when opening something such as an email attachment or having something downloaded without your consent when visiting an infected website – even ones that are considered legitimate can be sabotaged.  A PUP on the other hand can be installed with your consent – even though you may not know it.

It is widely recognized… that many if not most users fail to read a download agreement in sufficient detail to understand exactly what they are downloading.[1]

Let’s Get Started!

We’re going to look at a general definition and description of these two types of PC predicaments.

Virus

A virus is a type of malware (malicious software program), that is installed on your system without consent and will replicate itself in whole or in part.  It behaves in a manner that can be thought of as an infection by targeting one or more areas of your PC.  You can often expect to experience harmful activities or negative impacts such as monopolizing system resources (disk space and CPU), gaining access to private data, sending out spam content, corrupting data on the system, and displaying messages on the screen (popups).  While these harmful behaviours are typically expected not all viruses come equipped with a damaging payload.
Other traits:

  • Creators of viruses exploit security vulnerabilities on your system and are motivated by profit, desire to spread messages, sabotage, or operate for personal pleasure and sense of mastery.
  • Computer viruses cause billions of dollars worth of damage each year.[2]
  • Most viruses target computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems and often using complex stealth and anti-detection strategies to evade anti-virus programs.  As we point out in upcoming sections, Windows offers free tools to prevent and cure issues as a result of viruses.

PUP

This term, short for Potentially Unwanted Program, refers to items that may be unwanted.  This can include spyware (tracking software that gathers information), adware (where advertisements are displayed during operation), and dialers (if you have a modem, a dialer can make pay-per-call phone calls to other computers).  Most frequently it includes items you downloaded but without explicit consent.  In other words, you said yes but didn’t read the fine print.  One or more PUPs are most often downloaded along with software that you did in fact want (bundled together).  These items can bog down your system and can cause poor PC performance.

In a previous article we introduced “foistware” – a term derived from the word “foist” which is to foist upon or impose fraudulently or unjustifiably as with inferior merchandise on a customer.  This includes software that gets installed in addition to software you intended to install without your full knowledge or through stealthy methods such as being bundled with software you actually want.  The result can take the form of:

  • Additional Internet browser toolbar add-ons,
  • Changes to your default search engine (for example, from Google search to Bing),
  • Changes to your browser homepage,
  • Display of pop-ups with scary messages like “Back up your PC or lose it”, or “Your computer has 1000 errors”.

Unlike a virus, a PUP does not have the ability to replicate itself.  As for “unwanted”, they can include behaviours that result in negative impacts such as popups and annoying messages appearing and resources being excessively utilized (hard drive space or CPU).

Software vendors use bundling techniques frequently when offering a free application.  We have mentioned in previous articles how “free” is not always free; this is yet another example.  This is yet another example.  To gain revenue a software vendor will partner with a less desirable software creator to deliver a bundled program that requires you to carefully select what you are installing during the install process as we soon point out.  Once on your system, the manufactures of the less desired software provide advertisement or benefit from you clicking to their site.

These types of unwanted programs are not technically malware but have undesirable side effects for your PC as listed above.  Side effects can also include slower performance as these items will launch processes that run in the background.

Treatments:

There are ways of treating these PC plights.  However, as can be expected there is not one solution that works in all instances.  You cannot expect anti-virus tools to work for items that have been installed to your system with your consent albeit using dodgy methods.  We are going to reverse the order here and start with what should be easier to deal with –potentially unwanted programs.  If you cannot deal with them using these methods… chances are you are dealing with something more malicious.

Note: We are starting here with the Uninstaller tool offered with PC Clean Maestro and it is a free tool.  If an item is not displayed in the list of programs there is a good chance that it is a virus or some form of malware.

Remove PUP

The process of removing a PUP is to begin by identifying it.  With PC Clean Maestro you can use the Uninstaller tool.  Begin by opening the program and following these steps:

  1. Click the Uninstaller button in the left navigation bar.
  2. The Uninstaller tool will appear and a complete list of programs is displayed as seen here:

Cleanly Uninstall any Program - PC Clean Maestro

  1. Review the list by selecting any item and use the Program Information in the right pane to help identify programs.
  2. If there are items you do not know and you are unsure if you should remove the item go online to better verify it.  You can enter the program name in the Should I Remove It website.  This site provides removal percentages and ratings for a wide range of programs.
  3. Return back to PC Clean Maestro when making your decision and uninstall the item if you are certain you do not need it using the Uninstall button.

Clean Virus

There are free anti-virus tools that have been developed and there are pay-to-use solutions that are part of a multi-billion dollar industry.  Unfortunately, no one software program can provide 100% protection and offer the ability to remove all types of viruses as there are countless known viruses and new ones constantly being introduced.  New viruses that appear take time for the creators of anti-virus programs to include in their arsenal of protection.  This is why constant updating of these kinds of programs is required.  Fortunately free tools are open source; that is, free and open for anyone to run, modify and update so as to be available to the public domain.

Free From Microsoft: You can get free anti-virusl tools from Microsoft that will assist you with cleaning up an infected computer.

Tools include:

  • Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT): It supports XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.
  • Windows Defender – provides always-on, real-time protection against spyware, adware, keyloggers, and so on. It supports XP, Vista, and Windows 7.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials – and all-in-one, consumer-security tool to detects and removes a wide range of malware. It supports  XP, Vista, and Windows 7.
  • Win8 Defender – provides the same level of protection against malware as Microsoft Security Essentials but for Windows 8.
  • Microsoft Safety Scanner – for detecting malware hidden at even the deepest levels of your system. It supports XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.
  • Windows Defender Offline (WDO) – Microsoft’s most powerful anti-malware tool for consumers.

Our recommendation to average consumers:

  • For Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 users: Microsoft Security Essentials.
  • For Windows 8 users: Windows 8 Defender.

Detection and Prevention:

To prevent a PUP from being downloaded to your system you need to be very vigilant when downloading anything.  This means you need to detect when a program is bundled with other add-ons during the installation process.   When installing software you typically see a step-by-step install wizard that guides you through the process and offers you choices along the way.  The choices you make – even during the EULA (End User License Agreement) – will determine what you accept to be downloaded.

We recommend that you follow this link for a very clear, step-by-step example of potentially unwanted programs and how you can detect and avoid downloading these unwanted apps.

In Summary:

Even when software is installed to your system using legitimate means there are instances when additional software and add-ons, sometimes referred to as “crapware”, are included.  What you get isn’t what you see.  Removal can be questionable when you don’t know what you are dealing with.  With the information provided here you now have the tools and knowledge to better identify these and to remove them.

We hope this article has helped gain some insight and offered you some effective strategies on cleaning your PC.  We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

Improve Startup

by Andy Thompson on August 12, 2014

Why settle for a computer that is slow?  Maybe we come to expect that our PC is just not as fast as it used to be – but why?  There are a number of reasons why you are getting poor performance.  We are going to narrow it down in this article to one area of concern: Startup time.  Typically, we download applications and they will by default run when you start your system.  Do you need these to be running every time you start the computer?  It is not likely.  There is no advantage to having them run prior to when you need them and software programs are designed to start very quickly on demand.  Software programs are designed to start very quickly.  So let’s use your available tools to trim this list of startup items.  If there is still an issue with performance we can try out a few other available tools.

Even Microsoft makes the point:

No matter how fast or shiny computers might be when they’re new, they all seem to get slower over time. That state-of-the-art PC you bought last year might not feel like such a screamer after you install a dozen programs, load it with antispyware and antivirus tools, and download untold amounts of junk from the Internet. The slowdown might happen so gradually that you hardly notice it, until one day you’re trying to open a program or file and wonder, “What happened to my poor PC?”[1]

Well… if your PC is suffering from too many installations it’s time for some startup management.  Keep in mind that with many applications you install today – especially free ones – there are most likely add-ons that come with the program.  Add-ons are bundled together with the application you want but you do not need to install the entire bundle.

Tip: Make sure when you install any program you take the time to carefully read every page that comes up during the installation.  We have seen programs include agreements to install software during the license stage where you typically just click “I Agree” without reading the fine print.  When you decline and choose not to install these add-on programs, the installation continues to the application you do want.

Let’s Get Started!

We are going to be using free functionality available in PC TuneUp Maestro.  The Startup Management feature provides access to the applications that launch when you boot your system so you can optimize your computer’s startup performance.  From the list that is provided you can enable or disable items and you can also choose to remove items from the list entirely.

The steps include: Opening the Startup Manager; reviewing the items in the list; and then Enable, Disable, or Remove.

1. Open Startup Management:

Begin by opening PCTuneUp Maestro and go to the “Optimize PC” page as seen in the screen below:

Next, click the StartUp Management link.

2. Review:

There is a list that is provided with all the applications that are launched during the startup process.  The items that appear in the list will look like this screenshot:

You can review any items in the list to make an informed decision about how to best manage each.  This is especially advisable with ones you are not familiar with.

To review a startup application in the list, click the blue link associated with the item.

3. Disable and Remove Options:

From the Startup list, you can check the status of any item in the Select column.  If it is marked as “Disable” then it does not launch when you start the computer – no need to worry.

  1. Disable:  If something in the list is marked as “Enable” you can click the drop down arrow next to it and select: Disable.  The item remains in the list and no longer starts when you boot your computer.
  2. Remove: You also have the option to remove the item altogether but you will see a warning dialog warning you that you cannot use the program to restore it.  This removes the item from the Startup list but does NOT delete or uninstall the application.
Tip: If you see something on this list that is completely unfamiliar and you do NOT plan on using, it is a good idea to uninstall it altogether.  You can use the Uninstaller tool from PC Clean Maestro – a free function of the program – to remove programs and all their components.

Other Troubleshooting Tips:

If you are still experiencing problems you may need to dig a little deeper.  There are other tools available with PC TuneUp Maestro that can improve the situation.  Here is what we suggest:

  1. System TuneUp:   Try the System TuneUp function provided from the Smart TuneUp section (top of the navigation bar).  Make sure the System TuneUp option is checked and then click Start.  There are items that may come up to improve not only the StartUp time but also ShutDown and system speed.
  2. Registry repair:  You can clean and defrag your registry as well.  This can often times result in performance gains.  The registry functions are also found in the Smart TuneUp section.  Make sure the “Registry Repair” and “Registry Defrag” options are checked and then click Start.
  3. Defragment the hard drive:  A poorly performing hard drive can also aggravate the situation with respect to the PC boot speed.  We suggest cleaning any junk files and performing a defragmentation.  Check out our article: How to defrag your hard drives.

In Summary:

We’ve looked at one aspect of PC performance – Startup Management.  This article comes at a good time as we get ready to roll out a new updated Startup Manager that will be released this fall.  The features include:

  • Providing time measurements for each startup program.
  • Categorizing startup applications, startup services, and processes.  The option to enable, disable, and remove applications from the startup process is provided as described in this article.
  • Providing safety ratings and assessments for startup programs.  Users are warned of dangerous or unwanted program that they should disable and remove from the Startup list.

We hope this article has helped gain some insight and offered you some effective strategies on cleaning your PC.  We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

Cookie Time

July 9, 2014

There is one type of cookie that the Cookie Monster would not find appealing – computer cookies. But what are they and what are we to do with them? We are going to expand on what is known as “web” or “browser” cookies that are stored on your PC as a result of online browsing. The benefit to keeping these on your system is minor and they can be used in ways we do not wish. As a result, we pass on instructions on how to safely get rid of them.

Read the full article →

Spring PC Cleaning

June 6, 2014

It’s spring time. What a wonderful time of the year. We tend to feel energized from a restful winter season and it’s time to take on chores that were neglected or “to do” items that set the stage for our busy endeavors ahead. One of these tasks is cleaning your PC so that it runs efficiently. Believe it or not this process does not have to be equivalent to tearing one’s hair out and it can be very fast using the right tools. In the end you may have two important chores accomplished – a better organization of personal files and dead weight that we can refer to as “clutter” is removed.

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Tech Support Fraud

April 9, 2014

Have you ever played that “Whac-A-Mole” game? It’s the one where moles pop up out of a hole and you bonk them on the head and down they go. It doesn’t matter how many you bop on the head – they keep popping up. That’s pretty much how it is with fraudulent phone call scams. There have been some fines handed out to companies and individuals engaged in these scam activities, but they still keep popping up again and again. If you have ever had one of these phone calls you would agree – the callers are convincing.
We’re going to start off with a description of how this scam works followed by legal action taken against the scammers, and recent activity. Following this we will offer advice in terms of what to do when getting called and what to do if you or someone you know has already had a call and been the victim of technical support fraud.

Read the full article →

Facebook Uncovered

March 12, 2014

There is a real and strong allure to joining the crowd on Facebook. Its popularity and set of features makes email look like VHS in comparison to DVD. Make no mistake – this is a sticky subject. There are many criticisms that have surfaced and we will make the attempt to sort through these. We don’t want to get too bogged down with all the information and ultimately each person has to weigh out the pros and cons to make a decision for themselves.

Read the full article →

Hack, Hack

February 13, 2014

Yes it is cold and flu season. But we are referring here to another kind of viral risk – online hacking. It has again crept into the news and hit some of us right in the pocketbook. We explore two recent hacks that have had an impact on the financial security of millions of users. While not much information is released as to how these attacks occur – perhaps so as to not promote further offenses – we can focus on the effects of these attacks and what can be done to protect ourselves. A counter measure to these breaches is the onset of new technological security advances. It can be a challenge for us to keep up with it all but we endeavour to understand it and explore the options.

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Looking back and moving forward

January 17, 2014

During the year 2013 we covered a wide range of topics and moving forward we think there are many suggestions and recommendations that can be used in dealing with PC issues you may be facing right now.  So, we embark on a two-part adventure: to review the best of our articles and to highlight what PC tips and tricks you can take advantage of immediately.  What better way to step up to the plate when asked: What is your New Year’s resolution?  We hope it’s to take charge of your computing needs so that your PC works for you!  This summary of our top PC stories for us is a celebration of a year’s correspondences to you our readership.

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Sitting Down with a Good eBook

December 4, 2013

The holidays are upon us. At this time of the year we tend to find ourselves overdoing it when it comes to consumption and the ever-growing amount of items we have. When it comes to books, some of us are running out of room on our bookshelves and boxing up the extras. Then there’s the amount of trees used to create books. One way of being more space conscious and eco-friendly is to go electronic. You may be surprised to know that there are vast amounts of digitized books available. We’re going to examine the popularity of eBooks, describe in brief just what they are and what you need to know, and we are going to introduce CompuClever’s Ultra eBook Reader. Finally we will provide a list of free resources to whet your appetite for eBook reading if you haven’t already taken up this convenient and easy pastime.

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Can’t open an important file?

November 15, 2013

This article addresses a commonly experienced occurrence – not being able to open a file. We will begin with some basic questions that need to be answered in order to prevent opening the wrong type of file. It’s unfortunate that in today’s cyber world there are so many pitfalls to maintaining a healthy and secure PC but caution is a must when downloading, installing, or opening files on your computer. After that we will look at how to deal with the problem of opening files using PC TuneUp Maestro. There are tools that can help you in several instances including being able to recommend a free program, when one is available, that can open and view the file.

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