Microsoft’s built-in Windows Defender has had a feature that blocks installation of Potentially Unwanted Apps, (PUAs) since May, 2020. But up until now, it’s been disabled by default, which means users who wanted that protection would have to opt-in by flipping a few switches in their Windows Security settings.
Now Microsoft says it’s going to begin turning PUA protection by default, which means users who don’t want Windows 10 deciding which apps are safe to install will either have to opt-out by disabling the feature or manually override the warning that may pop up when you attempt to install some software.
Microsoft defines PUAs as “a category of software that can cause your device to run slowly, display unexpected ads, or at worse, install other software which may be more harmful or annoying.”
In other words, it’s not necessarily malware or spyware, but it may cause issues with the performance of your computer… and may even attempt to download and install malware or spyware.
For the most part, blocking installation of PUAs is probably a good thing, since it’ll keep users from accidentally installing browser toolbars or other software that can hijack your user experience. PUAs can also include those annoying app installers that attempt to install three other applications when you just want to install one, advertising or marketing software, or just apps with a “poor industry reputation” among security providers.
But there’s always a chance that Microsoft will flag an app you want to install as a PUA. For example, Microsoft considers cryptomining and torrent software potentially unwanted (although the latter only applies to enterprise customers). And that makes sense if you don’t mean to install those apps – they could be steal your system resources by running constantly in the background without your knowledge.
The good news is that there are a few ways around this feature:
- Install a different antivirus/anti-malware application. PUA blocking only works if you’re using Windows Defender.
- Keep PUA blocking enabled, but take the extra step of dismissing the warning when installing software you’re sure about (but which Defender isn’t so sure of).
- Disable PUA blocking.
If you’d like to disable the feature altogether, you can follow these steps:
- Open the Windows Security app in Windows 10.
- Click the App & browser control option.
- On the following screen, click the Reputation-based protection settings link.
- In the Reputation-based protection settings page, scroll down until you see Potentially unwanted app blocking and either flip the switch from the on position to off, or uncheck the boxes that say “Block apps” and/or “Block downloads,” depending on whether you want to disable protection for installation of all apps, or just downloading of PUAs from the Edge web browser.
If you want to get a sense of which apps Microsoft flags as potentially unwanted, you can search the company’s threat directory for PUAs.