Ask Toolbar Now Classified as a Threat by Microsoft

In addition to being a notoriously annoying add-on, the Ask toolbar has now achieved security threat status.

If you are a tech-savvy user, you have probably helped more than one friend or family member remove various toolbars, viruses and other unwanted contents from machines running a version of Windows. If you are not, you may have been affected by those by yourself trying to find ways and methods to get rid of them again. One of the most notorious toolbars is the Ask Toolbar which up to this day is bundled with Java downloads for Windows and Macintosh systems.

The main issue with bundling is that most users don’t expect other software to be offered with software downloads, and I guess it is fair to say that this contributes largely to the spreading of toolbars across Windows systems.

Some toolbars are notorious for changing core browser settings such as the default search engine. The Ask Toolbar is no exception as it will switch the search engine to Ask.com when you are not careful and disable it during installation.

java ask toolbar installation

It may also change the browser home page and new tab page as you can see on the screenshot above.  The options are enabled by default and will be installed if you are not careful during setup.

Microsoft announced back in May that it decided to change the company’s evaluation criteria in regards to programs that have search protection functionality.

In particular, Microsoft security programs will detect these programs starting June 1, 2015. Programs that may modify search engines are detected automatically by Microsoft software regardless of whether the code is functional or not.

Microsoft updated information about the Ask Toolbar recently on its security portal. It states now that the “software poses a high threat” to PCs which is the second highest rating available.

These are programs that might collect personal information and negatively affect your privacy or damage your PC. For example, the program collects information or changes settings, typically without your knowledge or consent.

The description on Microsoft’s security portal makes a distinction between the latest version of the toolbar, which it classifies as “not considered unwanted software” and previous versions which is classifies as “unwanted software”.

Did Ask change its toolbar behavior because of Microsoft’s policy change in regards to programs making use of search protection code?

It is clear however that Microsoft security software such as Windows Defender, Microsoft Security Essentials and Microsoft Safety Scanner detect some versions of the Ask Toolbar and offer to remove it from user systems.

So what does this all mean?

Microsoft security software, which is pre-installed on many Windows PCs, detects and removes at least some versions of the Ask Toolbar now. This alone should have a drastic effect on toolbar’s installation base on Windows systems.

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