How to avoid adware and unsafe installs

We’ve seen quite a few customers lately coming in with weird browser homepages, strange ads on different websites where they weren’t before, and even unwanted programs running in their toolbars and menus. The name of this scourge? Adware!

We’ve discussed viruses and unwanted programs in the past, and it’s still true that your Mac is mostly immune to these kinds of unwanted downloads. Hackers and spammers may be trying to expose your computer to all kinds of nasty programs, but for the most part, your Mac is safe running on its own.

The problems crop up when we, the users, try to actually do things on our computers. Malicious marketers and programmers take advantage of our trust and use us as their conduit to install things we don’t want. So our first line of defense when using our Macs is simply to keep an eye out for anything that looks fishy.

One of the most common methods for installing stuff is browser plugins. Some websites, particularly ones you use for online video streaming, will ask you to download certain plugins in order to view them. A few of the more common and legitimate video plugins are Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Silverlight and Unity Player by Unity 3d. If a pop-up appears asking you to download a video player when you haven’t tried to play a video, that’s a big red flag – just close it and ignore it.

If you see a page saying you need one of these plugins, it’s generally safe to install them provided that the request takes you to the official company page to download it. If you see a window asking you to download a special branded version of one of these players or any other, and it comes from the site instead of the official Adobe, Microsoft or Unity 3d page, it’s likely a method of installing something unscrupulous.

Even if you do click on something evil by accident, your Mac has several defenses to protect you from actually installing it. To begin with, it will warn you that you are trying to install a program that comes from the web. This gives you a chance to check the source website and see if it looks official (say, instead of or something like that.) More recent Macs may even stop you from installing it altogether if it doesn’t recognize the developer that built the app.

The more you use the internet and experience which pages work well and which don’t, you’ll develop your “street smarts” and be better at telling whether something’s off. In the meantime, if something’s going on that you can’t explain, and you’re not sure where it’s come from, bring your Mac in and we’d be happy to take a look.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions for future newsletters, please hit reply and let us know. Thank you for reading Mac Tips!