What is a PUA (Potentially Unwanted Application) or PUP?

Nwachukwu Glory  - Tech Expert
Last updated: November 15, 2023
Read time: 10 minutes

Potentially Unwanted Programs and Applications started as funny pranks before the internet became a mainstream service. But, unfortunately, they're not so harmless anymore. As with any powerful tool, they can be very helpful or harmful depending on the user's intent.


Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) and Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs) are so named because they reach your device without permission or consent (unwantedly). They are not as malicious as typical malware. Still, they exhibit dangerous functionalities empowering the attacker to perform different damaging actions, such as displaying unwanted or intrusive ads, crypto mining, backdoor provision, stealing data, and more.

The 1990s saw the internet escape the academic world and become a mainstream resource. Though trojans, viruses, and malware were already around, there were significant differences. Most of that code was meant as a joke, excluding a few destructive ones. Additionally, the malware spread through shared computers in schools and universities (cyber-cafés were still in the future). The internet didn’t play a role in spreading malicious software in the beginning.

Most minds behind the initial viruses in the digital world were not evil. They just wanted to have some fun by making a computer do something unexpected — having a ping-pong ball bouncing around your screen, making your speakers sound like a cricket, opening your CD-ROM, etc.

The coding pranksters who pioneered that kind of software unwittingly created a type that would become infamous: the potentially unwanted application or program (PUA or PUP). The PUA evolved into a completely different thing. In our day and age, PUAs are far from innocent pranks that can be amusing even for the victim. So what are they, exactly? This article will answer all your questions in this area.

What is a Potentially Unwanted Application (PUA)?

Potentially Unwanted Application (PUA), also known as Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP), is a software category that includes apps with the potential for misuse by malicious external actors. They are so named because they often enter a user’s system without consent (that is, they undergo an unwanted download).