Microsoft to start blocking adware that lacks easy uninstall

The company revised the policies for classifying, detecting and handling adware programs in its security software

Microsoft has toughened its criteria for classifying programs as adware and gave developers three months to conform with the new principles or risk having their programs blocked by the company's security products.

The most important change in Microsoft's policy is that adware programs will be blocked by default starting July 1. In the past such programs were allowed to run until users chose one of the recommended actions offered by the company's security software.

Interestingly, Microsoft's crackdown on adware comes as it introduces tools to make it easier for developers to incorporate advertising into Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone apps.

The company has re-evaluated its criteria for classifying applications as adware based on the principle that users should be able to choose and control what happens on their computers, according to Michael Johnson, a member of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center.

First of all, only programs that display ads promoting goods and services inside other programs -- for example, browsers -- will be evaluated as possible unwanted adware applications, Johnson said Thursday in a blog post. "If the program shows advertisements within its own borders it will not be assessed any further."

In order to avoid being flagged as adware and blocked, programs whose revenue model includes advertising must only display ads or groups of ads that have an obvious close button. The ads must also clearly indicate the name of the program that generated them.

Recommended methods for closing the ad include an "X" or the word "close" in a corner; the program name can be specified through phrases like "Ads by ...", "... ads", "Powered by ...", "This ad served by ...", or "This ad is from ...".

"Using abbreviations or company logos alone are not considered clear enough," Johnson said. "Also, only using 'Ads not by this site' does not meet our criteria, because the user does not know which program created the ad."

In addition to following these ad display guidelines, programs need to provide a standard uninstall method in the Windows control panel or the browser add-on management interface, if the program operates as a browser extension or toolbar. The corresponding uninstall entries must contain the same program names as displayed in the generated ads.

"We are very excited by all of these changes," Johnson said. "We believe that it will make it easy for software developers to utilize advertising while at the same time empowering users to control their experience."

Adware programs typically affect the Web browsing experience and have been a nuisance for years, primarily because their developers make it intentionally hard to completely remove all of their components or undo the changes made by these applications.

Researchers from antivirus vendor Avast named unwanted browser toolbars and extensions as one of the biggest problems for users in 2013. Such toolbars are often difficult or even impossible for average users to fully uninstall because they change their names and identifiers on almost every new computer to prevent detection and removal by security products, they said in a blog post at the end of December.

"Most adware in the past years has been classified as greyware at best," said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at antivirus vendor Bitdefender, Friday via email. "Often users would have to opt out of the adware offering and those less careful would end up with a product they don't want installed on their machine. These adware add-ons are also very difficult, if not impossible to remove, which makes them look awfully similar to spyware."

"However, the adware industry is a multi-billion dollar business and I don't expect adware developers to go along with Microsoft's decision without any pressure," Botezatu said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online safetyMicrosoftsecurityAvastDesktop securityspywareprivacybitdefender

More about AvastMicrosoft

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place