Microsoft has reclassified the Ask Toolbar as unwanted software, which means its security tools will automatically detect and remove all versions, except for the most recent, from Windows computers.
Ask Toolbar is an interface to the 20-year-old Ask.com search engine, and it’s included in among other things, Java downloads that include not only feature, but also security updates. The toolbar modifies web browsers, not only by adding itself to the browser’s toolbar, but changing the existing default search engine to Ask.com.
“Older versions of software can restrict or limit your control over your search provider,” Microsoft said on its Malware Protection Center website. “It can prevent you from disabling or modifying your search provider. This software poses a high threat to your PC.”
Microsoft said Windows Defender for Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 and Windows Vista will detect and remove the toolbar.
The decision has been cheered today by security and privacy professionals given that the toolbar is not only considered invasive, but also causes a performance drain on browsers.
— KasperskyUK (@kasperskyuk) June 12, 2015
— InfoSec Taylor Swift (@SwiftOnSecurity) June 12, 2015
Microsoft said it adds programs to its library of malware and unwanted software using five criteria:
- Unwanted behavior, running unwanted processes or programs on a computer that fail to disclose certain behavior or prevent the user from controlling its actions, including removing it;
- Advertising where the software delivers ads that interfere with usability;
- Advertisements that mislead the user such as with redirects or unwanted downloads;
- Privacy where the software collects and communicates data without the user’s knowledge; and
- Consumer opinion, where user feedback deems certain programs as unwanted and interfering with a computer’s operation.