Thank you Microsoft, for blocking the Ask Toolbar as malware

Ask blocked as malwareAnyone who has to provide technical support for their friends’ and family’s computers know only too well about the plague of unwanted toolbars that can infest a user’s browser.

In many cases they can mess with search results, inject money-making adverts into webpages, and be a headache to remove.

One of the most commonly-encountered browser toolbars, that – in my experience – users invariably say they didn’t want and are not sure how it got there is the Ask Toolbar.

The Ask Toolbar takes control of your web browser and does things you may not have wanted, such as using as your search engine instead of Google or DuckDuckGo, or making your default homepage. In addition, it has historically meddled with your computer’s settings and made it unnecessarily awkward witch to something other than Ask’s choices.

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

One of the main culprits for just why the Ask Toolbar is so frequently encountered is Oracle, who for years has been foisting unwanted software alongside its Java updates, which users can easily be tricked into installing by not noticing they have to opt-out each time.

ASK Toolbar via Java update

A quick search of the internet will find plenty of users’ desperate pleas for help in removing the Ask Toolbar, and guides rushing to their assistance.

Ask Toolbar removal guide

Clearly Microsoft has had enough of users grumbling about the Ask Toolbar, because it has announced that its anti-malware products will now detect and remove older versions of the Ask Toolbar – amongst other offenders.

Microsoft describes older versions of the Ask Toolbar as “unwanted software”. Many of its victims would probably have a fruitier description of it, but Microsoft naturally doesn’t want to overwork its legal department in a dispute with the fellows from Ask.

Here’s what Microsoft’s Security Portal is currently saying about the notorious Ask Toolbar:

Microsoft security software detects and removes this unwanted software.

Older versions of software can restrict or limit your control over your search provider. It can prevent you from disabling or modifying your search provider.

According to Microsoft, more recent versions of the Ask Toolbar – which have ripped out the ability to mess with your search engine choices – do not qualify for detection and removal.

The Register reports Ask as claiming that its toolbar is now fully compliant with Microsoft’s policies, and older versions of its toolbar should automatically update itself to the latest version.

But frankly, I’m not sure why you would want to run any version of the Ask Toolbar – considering the dirty tricks it has deployed in the past.

All I wanted was the Ask Toolbar

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

5 comments on “Thank you Microsoft, for blocking the Ask Toolbar as malware”

  1. Coyote

    First: Good. Good on Microsoft, even. Would be nice if other antivirus software would do the same (maybe some do?). Because indeed I've seen this trickery far too many times than I'd like to admit (while one is too many, it is quite a bit higher than that). It'd be great if other similar things would trigger as malware. Make this very idea more general, somehow (I suppose it might be difficult in some things e.g. dependencies as next point, but even then a fairly simple solution comes to my mind… simple unless you consider abuse but that's always a problem). I'm fairly certain that Adobe does this for Flash. Critical point: if it isn't a dependency or tied together somehow, then it shouldn't be installed together; let the user install it if they truly want it.

    Second, this bit here: "But frankly, I'm not sure why you would want to run any version of the Ask Toolbar – considering the dirty tricks it has deployed in the past."

    That's true. There's another reason, though, as to why you wouldn't want it: the very fact you're installing something else. It means that you're not intent on installing this rubbish (but something else) yet they truly believe it is a good thing to install this abomination. But if someone has you in their best interest they won't push you in to things, especially things you didn't ask for (worse is unsolicited outright and I would classify ask adware-bar.. or ask toolbar… same thing, right?.. as unsolicited, when it is bundled with other software).

    Anyone that fails to understand this point needs to think about unsolicited tech support calls (edit: also desperate people in sales). They lie (and they're easy to sniff although unfortunately some still fall prey, especially the elderly or those with mental confusion including by dementia) and claim they want to help you. But you didn't call them asking for help and it isn't like you're trying to take care of a flat tyre and someone drives by that would be able to help (that is legit and they aren't likely to insist on it if you tell them no). While they do have the option to disable this adware (maybe some won't appreciate this term for them but the bottom line is it is unwanted software, especially bundled with something else, and if they didn't want this connotation they should have thought about it in the first place), they make it opt-out and not opt-in and that is the problem because you wanted to install something else.

    1. Windex · in reply to Coyote

      Too long, didn't read. Your paragraph is longer than the article itself, get your own website and start writing blogs why don't you?

  2. Anonymous

    Java's like a packet of cigarettes and the Ask Toolbar is the cough that comes with it.

  3. Anomymouse
  4. John Crowther

    Re: Anomymouse : "Foistware" – brilliant – I hadn't seen that term used before now. It's perfect.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.