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How To Protect Your Windows PC From Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs)

If you are old enough to remember the earlier Windows days, you might be able to recall that when you installed something, say a browser, for example, something else got added to your device along with it, for instance, a search bar or a system cleaner to help you delete files.

As such, any software or program you have not wanted, but got added to your device anyway, falls into the category of Potentially Unwanted Applications. Often, they go by their abbreviated name PUAs or PUPs.

By definition, not all PUAs are harmful; however, they do carry a negative connotation because:

  • You didn’t ask for them. Except, it somehow got bundled into another software you installed.
  • In many cases, it can display unexpected ads, slow down your computer, and more often than not, anything with malicious intent can even cause damage to the levels of adding viruses, malware, or more.

The phenomenon of PUAs getting into someone’s device is somewhat of a rare occurrence now; yet, it’s a threat that Microsoft wants to protect against for their Windows Devices.

How To Safeguard Your Windows Devices From PUAs

Microsoft introduced blocking PUAs since its Windows 10 May 2020 update as part of its “Reputation-based Protection” in Windows Security.

To access and manage PUA blocking, you’d have to head over to Windows Security first. Then, select App & browser control from the left pane.

navigating to app & browser control in Windows security
To get to configuring PUA settings in Windows 11, the first step is to go to App & browser control inside Windows Security.

Next, open “Reputation-based protection settings.” In there, you will find a section for Potentially unwanted app blocking. (see screenshot below for reference).

configuring potentially unwanted app blocking in Windows 11
Configuring potentially unwanted app blocking in Windows 11.

Finally, use the toggle to turn PUA blocking on or off, as well as additionally tweak the settings for:

  • Block apps: with this option, Windows can sniff out PUAs after they’ve been added to your device.
  • Block downloads: A better option in comparison, this option can catch PUAs while they’re being downloaded. So in a way, it’s more real-time. Although, note that this feature would only work with the Microsoft Edge browser.

Both these choices have their own checkbox, which can be selected/de-selected.

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What Does Windows Do When a PUA Is Identified?

Microsoft says that when a PUA is detected, it will encourage you to take action via its notification/action center.

Therefore, you’d have to click on it first and decide from the provided alternatives to do anything. It is not set in stone that the choices will always be the same for every PUA, but as an example, below is an image capture from Microsoft’s site to give you a taste.

an example of available choices for when a PUA is detected in Windows OS
An example of available choices for when a PUA is detected in Windows OS. Image source: Microsoft.

Important note: Microsoft further warns that until an action is taken on an identified PUA, it will not get removed from the system. Howbeit, it will continue to be blocked.

Expert source: Microsoft