Ask Toolbar now classified as a threat by Microsoft

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 12, 2015

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 when you are not careful and disable it during 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.

Now You: Have you been affected by toolbar installations before?

Ask Toolbar now classified as a threat by Microsoft
Article Name
Ask Toolbar now classified as a threat by Microsoft
Microsoft classifies at least some versions of the Ask Toolbar as a high threat in several of the company's security tools now.

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  1. Ryan Jones said on June 15, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Now that’s finally a relief, ask toolbar is a damn joke, glad it’s finally getting a dark seal on it.

  2. b003 said on June 15, 2015 at 3:27 am

    More of that CONDUIT crap?

    1. tuna said on June 15, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      It may be crap, but it’s ‘legalized’ crap. Shortly after the beloved Gator Networks re-branded as “Claria” they disbanded and commenced spreading like a cancer to DC and other tech giants. Below is one example of the corruption of regulation & governance from the inside out. These are the advisers who have written our online privacy laws for the last decade, take a look at the DHS Privacy advisory panels in the last decade, nothing says ‘conflict of interest’ better, not even the joke that is bankster regulation. Case in point: Reed Freeman(Gator/GAIN/Claria) consulted for FTC ‘consumer protections’ as well as sat on the DHS Privacy Committee, all the while being a registered thief,,,er, uh… lobbyist.

      Hopefully you are a bit more pissed now. Sorry.

      I’m just wrapping up my exit from working in the user-space. Once it is done I will retire my n900 for a flip phone, eliminate all but my elder, work laptop and close all my social media accounts(haha, jk, no accounts have existed in over a decade). My transition to ‘caveman’ is almost complete.

  3. qwer said on June 14, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    June 12, 2015
    Cool Microsoft, now remove the %$&* ads in Skype, or at least allow you to check a list of “interests” and provide ads related to those interests. Skype’s current ads link to fishy sites and possibly malware.

    Hi, there exist an .reg to remove ads from Skype. Use google.


  4. Scikotic said on June 13, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Well, that didn’t take long! Ask is horrible but there is an option in Java to “Suppress sponsor offers when installing or updating Java”. It can be found in the Java Control Panel on the Advanced tab at the very bottom.

    I also don’t like the fact that Chrome installs and changes the default browser. I am OK with it installing, I guess, but changing the default browser is just wrong. I think it should install and, after a period of time, it should bring up a dialog that gives you options “Do you want to keep Chrome? Do you want to make it the Default?”

  5. insanelyapple said on June 13, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Isn’t Google doing almost same thing with sticking its offer of Chrome in various installers? Yes, it’s a popular browser but it’s also a dirty practice.

    1. Jeff said on June 13, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      And Chrome also includes Ask amongst its default set of search engines as well!

    2. kalmly said on June 13, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Yes. AVAST also tries to sneak it in. Also many others. So irritating.

  6. Dave said on June 13, 2015 at 10:26 am

    It is about time.

  7. Graham said on June 13, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Actually, they’re only recognizing OLDER versions of the toolbar. Microsoft is letting Oracle’s new versions through.

  8. Gonzo said on June 13, 2015 at 3:16 am

    I don’t know whether to congratulate Microsoft or just LOL. In 10 years maybe the CNET installer will be viewed as malicious.

  9. Guest said on June 12, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Cool Microsoft, now remove the %$&* ads in Skype, or at least allow you to check a list of “interests” and provide ads related to those interests. Skype’s current ads link to fishy sites and possibly malware.

  10. Nebulus said on June 12, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    The search engine part shouldn’t pose any problems, however I am happy to see that this piece of junk called “Ask Toolbar” is given the treatment it deserves.

  11. JB said on June 12, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Oracle should be punished for knowingly distributing malware.

  12. Jeff said on June 12, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    About time, as it should be, etc.

    But don’t Firefox and Chrome both still have it amongst the included search engines? Not the default, but seems I recall seeing it in the list, and having to remove it.

    1. Alexis said on June 12, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      No, it’s not.

      1. Jeff said on June 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        I reset my FF search engines to defaults and you’re right, it’s not there. But then I reinstalled Chrome because I felt sure I’d seen it, and sure enough, it’s included among the factory defaults:

  13. MaximeJ said on June 12, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Toolbars never were a problem for people used to computers.
    But for the others, I always install Unchecky on PCs that I know users won’t be careful during an installation, it saves a lot of time.

    Anyway, it’s a great move from Microsoft.

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