Grayware, despite its name, is not directly malware but rather an umbrella term to describe software tip-toeing the line between malware and legitimate software; this gray area sits software whose behavior is not malicious but rather undesirable or annoying. As aforementioned, grayware is a classification of malware and as such, certain derivatives of spyware, adware, bloatware and even junk files can be classified as grayware - the most common of these is junk files.
Junk files are temporary files that were created so that your computer or phone could perform a task, such as opening a document, viewing an image, or browsing the internet. These files are useful in the moment, but once they’ve served their purpose they’re just junk — system junk files that clog up a device and cause poor performance. (Source).
There are different types of junk files found on devices, the most common include:
- Temporary internet files - also known as cache files, are created and stored while you’re browsing and are then loaded if (and when) you revisit a website. If you consider how many sites you visit and never touch again, most of these caches lay dormant forever.
- Temporary program data - include download program files whose purpose is to install applications and ensure that they are initially setup properly. Once the installation is complete, they serve no purpose.
- Old program files - if a program isn’t removed properly, associated temporary files will stick around long after you’ve uninstalled or moved the program to the trash or recycle bin.
- Recycle bin files - when you move a folder or file to the recycle bin or trash, it hasn’t actually been deleted from your system and will remain there until you empty it.
- Thumbnails - these help an image load faster if you view it again, but most you will only use once, or there will be large periods of time in between reopening the same image. If you need to open the image again, a new thumbnail always gets created. (Source)
What is Bloatware?
Bloatware is commonly denoted as a subset of grayware; it is software that is typically pre-installed out of the box and slows down your device's performance. Bloatware loads upon device start-up and begins preforming operations in the background which can consume extensive RAM. Bloatware is usually classified under grayware because bloatware is not inherently malicious - because it comes out of the box, the vendor or manufacturer has pre-authorized said bloatware. Common examples include utility apps such as weather apps, calendar apps, or system cleanup apps - unless pertinent, consider uninstalling these applications with a dedicated bloatware removal tool that speeds up, cleans up, and revives your device, leaving it bloatware free.
Grayware, in this case bloatware, is typically included as part of a package downloaded together with a new application and installed alongside it. The End User License Agreement (EULA) frequently contains provisions that clarify information about grayware and how data will be used. Still, most individuals do not read it due to the length and legal complexities of EULAs. (Source)
How Can I Keep Myself Safe?
The best ways to save yourself unnecessary frustration dealing with grayware include:
- Educating your staff and warning them against downloading programs that aren’t directly related to their jobs.
- Making sure your browsers are updated.
- Only install apps from trusted manufacturers and legitimate websites.
- Regularly update your antivirus software.
- Stop visiting websites that are untrustworthy and unauthorized.
- Periodically run the system, checks for irregular activity. (Source)
The key to staying safe from grayware lies within the fundamental aphorism to "keep only what is necessary". Don't risk installing superfluous software and also check to make sure superfluous software isn't already installed!
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