For our summer vacation, our family headed back up North to Canada to spend the annual week with grandparents and aunts and uncles in some cabins on Pigeon Lake. And while the week started out extremely rainy and wet, we did get to experience some sunshine and warmer temperatures towards the end of it. I am not sure if the wetter-than-usual-days combined with spikes of sunshine were a direct result or not, but it seemed that our children were the main course for pesky and unwanted mosquitoes during our last few nights as the rain clouds moved off in favor of clear skies and muggier temperatures. While my wife is vigilant about keeping the kids covered (slathered?) in bug spray, it is a curious fact that mosquitoes still seem to feast on my kids, especially my daughter. (Has anyone done studies on the percentages of girls getting bit to boys?) And is it only me or are mosquito bites swelling to terrible new levels (breaks my heart to see these welts on the kids).
While I’ve heard that mosquitoes supposedly carry some positive aspects into their role in the environment, it’s personally hard for me to look past their thirst for blood, their major annoyance and their potential to carry deadly diseases. It seems that mosquitoes are certainly the unwanted result of freely playing outside by a lake under a moonlit sky, roasting marshmallows with family while building delicious s’mores around a fire with camp friends, or watching a spectacular display of fireworks celebrating Canada Day on July 1st.
As I returned to the States (Land that I love), and our office, I was sounding off on my dislike of mosquitoes. One of our Team Members made the following comment: “you sound like my mom in her past experience with a browser toolbar”. He was correct. If many of us were asked to give a few words to describe toolbars (i.e.: Ask.com Toolbar, Yahoo Toolbar, etc.) , we might use words like “unwanted” or “annoying”, or possibly even “it won’t go away”. I guess mosquitos may have some similarities to the annoyances that toolbars bring. So what exactly is a toolbar?
By definition, a toolbar is a graphical control element on which a row of button, icons, or other elements are placed to select various functions in a web browser or software application (office suites, graphics editors, etc.). Some Toolbars are useful and harmless and help provide users a user-friendly web browsing experience. There are also several toolbars out there that serve useful purposes like Bookmark Management, Web Development, Customized Search Engines etc. There are even examples of big box antivirus vendors in our industry adding their own toolbars into a user’s browser upon installation.
But far-outweighing the positive toolbars, are negative ones. There are many more harmful toolbars out there that are getting accidentally installed or installed without the users consent. The most commonly blocked toolbars by Thirtyseven4 are the Searchqu Toolbar, Babylon Toolbar, SupTab and Ask Toolbar. Within our Thirtyseven4 Labs, we detect toolbars under the following two categories: PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) or under an Adware Category identification depending on their activity. It is important to understand that these types of unwanted toolbars are more than just a mere nuisance and can result in adware activity and disrupt a users overall browsing experience. Toolbars can change your home page and search results without your permission or awareness. Many observed toolbars can display annoying ads and manipulate search results. Toolbars can monitor your browsing habits by intercepting the web traffic and monitoring the websites visited by a user. The information collected will likely be organized, sold and then used by 3rd party advertising and tracking purposes.etc. In addition, since toolbars are installed directly into the browser it is also possible for them to inject themselves as a “Man-in-the-Middle” between secure connections from servers and the user. And since most toolbars get installed automatically they can be very challenging to uninstall, especially for novice users. It may also be important to note that even a “good” toolbar, if not kept up-to-date, can be a threat to the system as the toolbar application could get exploited by hackers and steal users information. The mosquitos are beginning to sound more palatable compared to these toolbars aren’t they! Here you thought mosquitoes were bad!
With so many strikes against unwanted toolbars, I guess the question is how/why toolbars are getting installed on millions of systems. One of the main reasons for toolbars getting unknowingly installed is user’s desire for downloading and installing free software. I once heard someone describing free software this way; “If the product is free, the product is you”. You may need to chew on that for a moment. This doesn’t only go for toolbars or similar applications but even applies to software applications in our industry (antivirus/security). “Free” software often times comes bundled with more unwanted add-ons or browser toolbars or are tracking and recording the websites you’re visiting for their own data collection - they need to make their money and support their development team from some place. But bundling unwanted toolbars or other 3rd party software isn’t only limited to unscrupulous companies, just have a look at Oracle’s Java or even Adobe.
For years Oracle has bundled the Ask.com Toolbar while installing a critical/mandatory Java update or installing Java freshly on a system. However, more recently, it appears Oracle formed a new partnership with the search engine company Yahoo!.
I am not sure how much Yahoo! is paying Oracle to be the Ask.com replacement but I’d imagine it’s a lot! In Adobe’s case, they aren’t asking users to install a browser toolbar by default, but rather installing Mcafee Security Scan Plus.
The problem with this is that users aren’t only installing unwanted software but the software selected to install by default (something I personally disagree with!), will likely conflict, despite the claim, with a users existing security software making the system performance slow and possibly lock-up. I suppose we can’t blame companies like Adobe or Oracle from making money in this fashion but by making these applications available by default within critical security updates to help patch their own solutions against known exploits and vulnerabilities seems a little low and a terrible practice. My fear is that user’s will ignore updating for critical security updates in fear of getting unwanted software.
So whether you accidentally installed a toolbar or a toolbar got installed without your consent, here are some steps you can do to remove it.
1. Go to Control Panel > Programs > Uninstall a program. Within the propagated program listing, look through the installed programs for any recently installed free programs. As mentioned above, most free programs do come with a cost, and besides your time, one of these costs is the bundling of unwanted and potentially harmful software. Removing these free programs is your first step.
2. Delete or disable Toolbar Add-on or Extensions. Locate and check your browser settings for unfamiliar add-on or extensions. Many of the configured add-ons will carry the same or very similar name as the toolbar itself. If an extension looks suspicious delete it and restart your browser. If you are unfamiliar how to check, please click on one of the following links depending on your primary browser of choice.
3. Reset your Browser Settings. Resetting your browser settings takes your browser back to the default state. While this may also be frustrating, as you’ll have to re-configure any changes that you made (home page, security settings, etc.), it is recommended because it will also revert any changes made by the unwanted toolbar. If you are unfamiliar how to reset your browser settings, please click on one of the following links depending on your primary browser of choice.
4. Wipe your Browser History and Cookies Clean. Many undesirable toolbars have been observed to reinstall themselves using the help of dropped/stored cookies. If you are unfamiliar how to delete your browser history and cookies, please click on one of the following links depending on your primary browser of choice.
An itchy mosquito bite is annoying and uncomfortable for a time, but at least they go away. Toolbars don’t go away. Unless you are trained in removing them correctly, a toolbar will continue to reappear and worse—it may be tracking your activity (altering your daily web-searches and results), and sharing your personal information with other pesky 3rd party pests.
I have oftentimes thought about how much more enjoyable the great outdoors in summer would be if Noah would of only swatted the mosquito and its mate during the flood days. Can we rid the world of mosquitos and tool bars? Not really, but we can be proactive about avoiding getting bit by them. Don’t “open the door” to let these guys in. Resist the urge to download free things, especially tool bars. Be informed about all appliances that you do install, and stay protected! Wear bug spray at night and have a strong antivirus program applied at all times. Thirtyseven4 promises not to sting your eyes or leave a sticky residue! But we will prevent you from being “bit” by unwanted applications such as malicious toolbars, and you’ll feel safer in the wilderness of the Web. Enjoy these Summer days and nights, and stay protected!