Posey's Tips & Tricks

Getting Rid of Nag-Ware

One of the things about computing that bothers me to no end is being interrupted by messages stemming from applications on my desktop while I am trying to get things done. Don't get me wrong -- some messages are useful. For example, if the printer runs out of paper while I am trying to print something, then I want to know about it.

The messages that I am talking about stem from what I like to refer to as nag-ware. Nag-ware is a term that I made up quite a few years back to refer to software that constantly nags you about taking some type of action. For example, nag-ware might try to get you to purchase printer ink, upgrade an application that you are running, or try out another product from a vendor that makes one of the applications running on your desktop.

The question is, how do you get rid of the nag-ware that is running on your desktop or laptop? Well, the removal tends to be a tedious process. Before you do anything however, it is important to make a full back up just in case you accidentally remove anything that you need. With that said, there are several different strategies that you can use for dealing with nag ware.

Check Your Device Drivers
I recommend that you start out by opening the Windows Control Panel and checking for unnecessary components related to third-party device drivers. Printer drivers are the worst about containing nag-ware, but I have also seen certain sound card drivers and video drivers that contain nag-ware as well.

So what's so bad about printer drivers? Well, some printer manufacturers add things like shopping links to your desktop and install code that periodically prompts you to purchase ink or other printing supplies.

These types of modules are often installed by default when you install printer drivers from certain manufacturers. Typically you can simply click on the unwanted modules in the Control Panel's Programs applet and then remove those modules. However, some printer manufacturers force you to reboot after each module that you remove, presumably as a way of discouraging customers from uninstalling all of the nag ware.

Check Application Components
Sometimes legitimate applications tend to install unwanted code. Sometimes it is possible to open the Control Panel's Remove Programs applet, select the application, and click Change. This technique doesn't work for every application, but when it does work you are able to pick and choose which application components you want to install or remove.

Some applications combine nag-ware with the core product and you may have to resort to configuration changes in order to put a stop to the nagging. One example is a dictation product that I use on a regular basis. When I open the software, I routinely receive messages designed to entice customers into purchasing the vendor's other products.

These ads are tied to the program's update mechanism. If the software is configured to automatically check for updates then you will receive these types of ads within the update utility. The only way to put a stop to the ads is to disable automatic updating for the product.

Be Careful Where You Download Software
Probably the best advice that I can give you regarding the prevention of nag-ware is to be careful about where you download applications from on the Internet. It is always best to download applications directly from the vendor's site whenever possible.

One of the major download Web sites often requires users to work through a short wizard prior to downloading software. Keep in mind that this is a well-known, mainstream download site, not a pirate site or an obscure download portal.

The wizard used during the download process is filled with deceptive prompts (although the wizard never outright lies about what it is doing). For example, I have occasionally seen screens that ask you to accept a license agreement. Unless you read the screen it is easy to assume that the agreement is for the software that you are downloading, when in reality the agreement is for a browser toolbar or some other add-on that you didn't ask or. Clicking the Decline button is the only way to avoid the unwanted installation and proceed to your download. Keep in mind that this is only one of the somewhat deceptive techniques that this download site uses. There are many other.

Look up Anything that You Don't Recognize
As you work through the Control Panel's list of things that are installed on your desktop, you should take the time to do an Internet search on anything that you don't recognize. Some Web sites will perform drive-by downloads, which install code on your machine without your knowledge or consent. Your antivirus software may ignore the download if the software that's being installed is not considered to be malicious.

To give you a more concrete example, I recently found a program that I didn't recognize on my desktop. It was called Yontoo. I didn't know what Yontoo was, so I looked it up on the Internet. However, according to SystemLookup.com, "Yontoo Layers or Drop Down Deals browser add-on  creates virtual layers that can be edited to create the appearance of having made changes to the underlying website. Has ads in the layers with no obvious warning on install-- detected by Spybot S&D as Adware/Yontoo.Pagerage and by Avira as Adware/Yontoo.A.13"

 Needless to say, this was something that I chose to remove.

There are a number of things that you can do to remove nag-ware from your computer. The best defense however, is to use something like AppLocker or Bit9's Parity to prevent nag-ware from ever being installed in the first place.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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