Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Is there a way to prevent toolbars from ever downloading to a computer?

After of years of telling someone not to download anything, I just found over
five to ten toolbars. Is there a way to totally block these things from not only
installing silently, but no pop-ups for these things at all, but other pop-ups
can still appear? She would never see the request to install it. It’s a Vista
with the latest Internet Explorer. I cannot convince her to go to another
browser.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #16
, I talk about how browser toolbars get installed and why those “pop ups” are not always something that can be stopped by a pop-up blocker.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Browser toolbars

Ultimately, another browser is not gonna help anyway.

In fact, I honestly don’t know what will.

The problem is that many software installation programs will, as part of
their installation, offer to install some unrelated software.

Typically, it’s an advertisement-based thing… they get paid. They get some
additional revenue for offering you this unrelated software. Nine times out of
ten, this unrelated software involves some kind of toolbar:

  • You may also see toolbars getting installed from web pages…
  • For all I know, there are downloads you can get through Facebook…
  • Other social media sites do this same thing.

Stopping toolbars

The fundamental problem here is that there’s no consistent approach to how toolbars are installed, how they are offered, or how setup programs are written to make these offers.

So there’s no consistent way to turn the offer off or to always hide the
offer from people.

The user has ultimate control

Unfortunately, there’s very little that can be done to protect your computer
from the person using it.

We might think of limited user accounts, which is a good way of preventing
system level malware from being installed, but that’s not what’s happening
here.

Here, we’re installing user level software that’s getting installed into the
user’s browser: Internet Explorer (although it could be Chrome, it could be
Firefox, it doesn’t really matter.)

So, ultimately, there’s only so much that can be done to protect a computer
from the user and it’s not much. Education is the answer.

An implied yes

I’m not aware of a way to prevent toolbars (and such) from being
installed if the computer user says, “Yes, please install them” …even if they
don’t realize that they’re doing that.

My blame in scenarios like this are on the software vendors who are trying
to get this stuff installed… whether the user would really want it or not!
They are basically hiding the options or being misleading about the
options.

So, that very long answer comes down to a very short resolution that says,
“No, I don’t know of a way to prevent this from happening. I’m sorry.”

Do this:

Subscribe to Confident Computing! More confidence & less frustration -- solutions, answers, & tips -- in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

6 comments on “Is there a way to prevent toolbars from ever downloading to a computer?”

  1. I’ve found the best way to avoid drive-by toolbars is to always select the custom install; the default install often grants automatic install permissions for all kinds of unrelated software. This doesn’t always work–I’ve seen Piriform, when updating CCleaner, install the Chrome browser without offering the chance to opt out.

    However, should the worst happen, I just use Revo Uninstaller to get rid of the unwanted toolbar.

    Reply
  2. I found a nifty lil’ app at Major Geeks for removing unwanted tool bars.
    I’m on a friends machine at the moment and can’t remember what it’s called.

    Reply
  3. Yeah, I also blame the software vendors who seem to hope that the user won’y be savy enough to spot the offered extra. I understand that there is little that can (or should) be done at admin level to block user level toolbars form being installed to the users environment. But what bothers me is when “user A” accepts a firefox toolbar that “user A” thinks is nifty, “user B” also gets stuck with it, Even though “user B” doesn’t like ANY toolbars clttering up his browser window… In my case I, “user B” have the only admin account on the WinXP box where this happens. And as soon as I happen to login and trip over said toolbar I’m looking for it in the add/remove software contol pannel app. But what chance would I have if “user A” was the one with the admin priviliges???

    Reply
  4. “Gonna”- really?

    Really. Gonna. This is a transcript of an audio podcast and spoken English is significantly less formal (or gramatically correct) than written.

    Leo
    12-May-2012
    Reply
  5. You can always change the icon’s properties to start the browser without any plugins. Unfortunately, in addition to blocking toolbars, it will block *all* plugins.

    With Firefox and Chrome, you can type “about:plugins” into the address bar to see what plugins you have. Safari uses “help / installed plug-ins” from the menu. IE uses “tools / manage add-ons” for this. You’d be surprised as to just how many plug-ins you have, and use, in normal use.

    While browsers are getting better at letting you manage such add-ons, including disabling and/or uninstalling them, there’s not much that can be done to stop someone from saying “yes, install this toolbar”, especially when such things are done from outside of the browser itself.

    Reply
  6. Excellent answer by Dick… You should normally avoid the Normal / Default / Recommended installation of downloaded software. They call the alternative way Custom / Expert or some such but don’t be intimidated by such names because a compleat idiot can do it. Simply opt out of all toolbars and other freebies offered during installation, typically by UNchecking them (usually pre-checked, by “default”). And don’t be aftaid of a mistake, as you can always uninstall and start over.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.