[SECURITY] Foistware Blocker in Windows 10

Category: Software

Did you know that Windows 10 has a little-known feature that will block installation of 'potentially unwanted apps' that try to install themselves during another program’s installation? This feature is the answer to one of my most fervent tech prayers! I also have a solution for people still using Windows 7 or 8. Here's what you need to know...

How to Block "Potentially Unwanted" Software

When you download and install a “free” program, you need the concentration of a brain surgeon to ensure that you get exactly what is expected. That’s because many free programs try all sorts of tricks to install other programs that come along with the free program’s installation file. I’m sure you know what I am talking about, but here is a clear-cut example:

The installer app of ImgBurn, a free optical disk burning program tries to trick you into installing "McAfee Web Advisor" (and possibly other junkware) on your PC as you click through the ImgBurn installation screens. ImgBurn’s installation screens contain tiny check-boxes already checked, which purportedly represents your conscious decision to allow the Potentially Unwanted App (PUA) to be installed.

This dirty trick works on many people who don’t pay close attention to all of the tiny print, icons, check-boxes, “Install” buttons, and other distractions that appear during the installation this and many other freebies. The more unwanted "foistware" that gets installed, the more money the authors of the software make. It’s an evil, underhanded tactic that should be stopped. It also results in clutter, confusion, and the potential for compromising your privacy and security.

stop foistware

I've been warning AskBob readers about foistware for at least 5 years, but the problem is not going away. So it's up to you to be aware, diligent, and equipped with the proper tools to prevent the installation of unwanted (and potentially malicious) software on your computer.

If you have Windows 10, the SmartScreen feature will block most apps that try to install themselves during another app’s installation. With this option enabled, you will get the program you intended to download and nothing else. You can start the installer and not have to watch it like a hawk, reading every character and inspecting every box or button that appears.

In my testing with the Edge browser on Windows 10, potentially unwanted programs were blocked before they could be downloaded. A warning appeared, and gave me the option to stop the download. When I tried the same with the Chrome browser on Windows 10, I was able to download the file, but Windows put up a block when I tried to run the program.

To test if your system detects Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs), you can try to download the AMTSO Potentially Unwanted Application test file – a simulated Potentially Unwanted Application (PUA).

Pass the Caveat, Please

Microsoft’s tech support note on this feature explains that blocked apps are placed in the quarantine section so they won't run. BUT… there are some exceptions. The tech support note goes on to say: "PUAs are blocked when a user attempts to download or install the detected file, and if the file meets one of the following conditions: The file is being scanned from the browser; The file is in a folder with "downloads" in the path; The file is in a folder with "temp" in the path; The file is on the user's Desktop; The file does not meet one of these conditions and is not under %programfiles%, %appdata%, or %windows%. "

So if a PUA is a new one that Windows does not yet know about, or if it is not in any of the locations specified above, it will slip past this protection. But it should catch most of the pesky toolbars, weather apps, and other junkware that useful free apps try to foist onto users.

Another Option to Block Foistware

So... if you're not running Windows 10, or you are running Windows 10 with a third-party security tool that disables the SmartScreen filter, there's still a solution, and it may be better in any case.

In my article, Finally: The End of Next, Next, Next… I discuss a nifty free service called Ninite, which makes it easy to safely install new software, and keep it all up to date.

Ninite lets you choose from a menu of over 100 popular free software titles, bundles them up into a single download, and installs them with a single click. Ninite will automatically say no to toolbars and extra junk, and will not bother you with any questions during the installations. It also skips any reboot requests from installers. For security, Ninite downloads each app from the publisher's official site, and verifies the digital signatures.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

foistware blocker, potentially unwanted programs, junkware blocker, crapware blocker, Ninite software installer

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Most recent comments on "[SECURITY] Foistware Blocker in Windows 10"

Posted by:

20 Dec 2019

Microsoft should have introduced this type of protection starting with Windows 7.What took them so long??

Posted by:

Joe B
20 Dec 2019

Another option is to scan your computer with Malwarebytes, which can identify PUP's that were installed, and quarantine them.

Posted by:

gene jacobson
20 Dec 2019

I use Malwarebytes Pro. It grabbed and quarantined it immediately.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2019

Should I set the "Smart Screen for Microsoft Edge" feature to warn or set it to block.

I never use Microsoft Edge. Will the Smart Screen feature work automatically for Firefox and Chrome ?

Posted by:

Wild Bill
20 Dec 2019

Several years back, in Win7 days, I found a small program called "Unchecky" which unchecks the little checkboxes. Its not perfect (Avast and CCleaner can sneak boxes through) but it works pretty well, generally, and I have used and recommended it for several years, especially for folks with kids. Saves a good bit of cleaning sometimes.

Posted by:

Ken H
20 Dec 2019

Kaspersky takes care of that, but my question is, how do you get the program you actually want if it is also blocked because it has PUPs/PUAs piggybacked?
I guess ninite is the only option?

Posted by:

20 Dec 2019

Thank you for yet another great topic coverage without the worry of a built-in PUA,
FOISTware conundrum should not give most all true FREEware (=Windows OpenSource software) such a bum-rap.
I run my Windows PCs without the use of “apps” or ‘TRIALware’ but with many installed/trusted “applications” and utilities. When/if I decide to install any new software or updates, I pre-launch Revo Uninstaller to monitor such installations; in case a dirty-trickster happens to sneak thru my other defenses w/o relying on backgrounds services (e.g.SmartScreen) or other utilities (e.g. Ninite). I also use a *firewall and *HOSTS file to block (or allow) unnecessary telemetry from installed software and *normally block all automatic software upgrades. An *automatic StartUp utility provides for monitoring any changes for the boot-up processes, and a new *Acronis disk image back-up is manually initiated every 60 days locally for the dedicated OS drive, as well as the data drives, w/o *relying on the cloud.
Maybe Windows’ SmartScreen has gotten smarter than I am luckier!

Posted by:

Gary R
20 Dec 2019

Have used Unchecky in the past. Just looked to see if it was installed, but find it got deleted some time back. Went to https://unchecky.com and downloaded and installed. Took about a minute. That's it, nothing else to do from now on. It will notify you every time one of those boxes shows up. Doesn't make any difference whose browser you use, it just works. Also easy to get rid of if you decide it's not for you.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2019

Too bad windows does not have a dedicated installer, you could just type:

apt-get program_name

and your password and be assured that a legitimate verified copy of the latest version would be installed.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2019

I have my Smartscreen settings set to WARN. Yet, I was able to download the test file meaning Smartscreen did not detect and stop it.

Is WARN OK? I expect I will read and react to any warning. Would BLOCK allow the wanted program through and also clean the unwanted attachments/inclusions?

Posted by:

Bob K
21 Dec 2019

You are safe with a combination of "Unchecky" and Malwarebytes. I can even download from CNET (The worst offender of foistware) and don't have to worry about anything.

Posted by:

Linda Majors
21 Dec 2019

Thanks, Bob! I have Windows 10, took the test, and the download "failed, due to potential virus." Yea!


Posted by:

rien snijder
21 Dec 2019

Sometimes the drive by downloads are hidden unless you click "advanced". Only then the checkboxes for unwanted software show themselves.Thanks Bob! Until now I never used edge.

Posted by:

Larry Hawk
21 Dec 2019

I always check with Ninite first, and if they have the download available, I use it without hisitation. Ninite is a great free service that I have used trouble free for years.

Posted by:

21 Dec 2019

PatchMyPc has taken over for Ninite on my computers - it supports 300 programs, not Ninite's 90.
And, it's simplier! Just download and run PatchMyPc, no installation needed.

It automatically detects the programs it supports if installed. Look though the PatchMyPc list, add other programs you want. Then in one click it will, if needed, update anything already installed and install any newly wanted programs. It's like a programmable Ninite.

Oh ... Patchmypc can also uninstall programs. Truly an all-in-one tool for those free programs it supports. And if that's not enough for you, research chocolately. Currently that supports 7358 program packages!

Posted by:

23 Dec 2019

'Chocolatey' is a Windows 3rd party package installer with over 5300 verified packages, and over 87,000 total packages if you include pre-release and beta packages.
The 'downside' is that it's run from an elevated command prompt window, but you can install/uninstall any number of packages silently while working on other projects.
The free open source edition should work for most users.
For the curious, check out 'Chocolatey (Windows Package Manager) Beginners Guide' on YouTube.

Posted by:

30 Dec 2019

So Microsoft then knows and records every web site you visit? What is good about that? Don't they know enough about us already? Mine and I'm sure other people's security software see this as a security risk. I tend to agree.

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