NewsOctober 13, 2016 @ 11:12 AM

Malwarebytes Thinks Potentially Unwanted Programs Are Malware

Manufacturers have long used and abused bundling software to collect placement fees from software marketers. Implicit in the bundling is the belief that the software will be beneficial to the user in some way — or at least cause them no obvious harm. But there have always been potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) in the mix.

These days, this practice is under critical review by security experts who are concerned that it may provide a vector for attackers. If a bundle includes software that eschews security best practices, cybercriminals might be able to exploit the weak spots.

A Full-Barrelled Assault

Things have gotten out of hand. According to Bleeping Computer, this type of mutant adware/malware installs backdoors and rootkits. It then employs persistence techniques to make the programs very difficult to remove.

Even Microsoft wants to zap some of these PUPs. Softpedia reported that the tech giant decided to add the SupTab, Sasquor and Ghokswa PUPs to its Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) recently.

PUPs can amount to full-barrelled assaults on a user. Combine this with the security implications of using unaudited and untrusted software, and you have a real problem.

Redefining Potentially Unwanted Programs

Malwarebytes has had enough. The cybersecurity research firm is changing its internal definition of PUPs, extending the parameters in functional and far more exclusionary ways. It is sure to meet vendor resistance.

That resistance can even take legal form. Let’s say a PUP vendor crams a useless program into a bundler. The end-user license agreement (EULA) might allow the vendor to sue anyone who calls the software malicious or identifies it as PUP-related malware. Producers have bitten the ankles of past security product creators this way.

According to the Malwarebytes blog, the firm received “a mountain of letters with legal letterheads demanding that we stop. Now some people might think of this as something that would slow us down, but we see it as proof that we are making a dent in the development and distribution of PUPs.” Sounds like the experts aren’t giving up so easily.

Unfortunately, it seems that PUP pushers are only shut down when victims come forward and sue the vendors themselves.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.