Updated 3/2: Lenovo has released a guide for removing the annoying Superfish bloatware that comes pre-installed on every one of its laptops. You can download the removal tool and find instructions for how to use it right here.
Updated 2/20: Changed the instructions for removing the Superfish certificate to work better with more computers.
When you buy a new laptop, you trust that the hardware and software are top of the line, and that it won't have programs on it that it shouldn't. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
I've talked in the past about the problem of manufacturers putting "bloatware" on new machines that slow them down. Now, one of the biggest and most reputable laptop brands in the world has crossed the line.
It recently shipped laptops with an adware program called "Superfish" that watches what you're doing online so it could serve you relevant ads. That's shady enough, but it gets worse.
The way Superfish works means that any hacker can direct you to malicious websites and bypass any warnings you might normally get that the site is fake. This is a serious problem, and you need to know if you're at risk.
The company under fire is Lenovo. If you bought a Lenovo laptop or Ultrabook between September 2014 and December 2014, there's a good chance that you have Superfish on your computer.
However, Lenovo forum users say the problem has been identified as far back as mid-2014, so if you have any Lenovo laptop from 2014 you should keep reading.
What does Lenovo have to say about all this? You can read its full statement on the matter here, but basically it said that Superfish was installed to help users find products they might like, Lenovo wasn't making much money from it, and it doesn't see a security problem with the way the program works.
However, because users are complaining it ended its relationship with Superfish in January 2015 and is making Superfish release a patch that turns it off in affected laptops. Speaking of which, let me show you exactly how Superfish works, then I'll tell you how to get rid of it.
Superfish gives you visual search results based on your search history. For example, if you were searching for an Intel product, you might see the following:
Image courtesy of user iknorr on the Lenovo forum.
That "Powered by VisualDiscovery" notice just above and to the right of the images is Superfish. The real problem, though, is how it does that. It signs its own security certificates.
Using the security certificate, Superfish gives itself permission to hijack your secure connection to sensitive websites. Click here to learn more about certificates and why they're so important to Internet security.
Security experts call this a "Man in the Middle" attack. It's bad enough a company is doing this, but as I said earlier, Superfish's security is so bad any hacker can use the certificate to snoop on your secure browsing. So even if you see "https" in the website address, you're not safe.
There is some good news, though. You can visit a site that will instantly tell you if you have the Superfish adware. Click here to check your laptop now. Also, the Mozilla Firefox browser is not affected by Superfish because it uses its own security certificate manager.
If your Lenovo laptop tests positive for Superfish, I recommend switching to Mozilla Firefox until it's gone, and uninstalling Superfish as soon as you can. Revo Uninstaller and GeekUninstaller are both strong program removers. Use them to remove VisualDiscovery, which is an alias of Superfish.
However, you will also need to remove the false security certificate that Superfish created for itself. Even if you use Firefox as your main browser, you need to do this because it still puts your computer in danger.
In Windows 8, press the Search magnifying glass icon on the Start Screen or press Windows Key + S to bring up a search window. In Windows 7, click the Start button and look for the "Search programs and files" just above it.
Then type in "certmgr.msc" (minus the quotes) and wait for it to pop up in the search list. Then right-click on it and choose "Run as administrator." Type in your administrator password (if the computer asks) and then you'll see the certificate manager appear.
In the left column, click "Trusted root certificate authorities" and then double click on the "Certificates" folder in the right column. Now, look through the certificates to find "Superfish." Right-click on Superfish and then choose "Delete." That will take care of it for good.
Warning: Removing certificates can cause problems browsing the Internet. Only remove Superfish's certificate and nothing else.