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How to Remove Spyware and Adware
Spyware and Adware– software which installs itself on your computer without your knowledge, with the purpose of tracking your surfing, calling pop-up ads, or stealing your passwords or credit card numbers – is an increasing problem for all Internet users. Before we look at how to remove spyware and adware, it’s worth trying to understand what they actually are, and why they are dangerous.
Firstly, some definitions will help. It is Spyware which is the real problem. Adware is usually benign. Adware is simply another way of defining software – you will have heard of Freeware (totally free software) and Shareware (software you can use and pay for later if you like it). Adware is simply software with another way of recouping the development cost – it displays ads while you use it. Some versions of the email program Eudora are adware – ads are displayed in a column on the left while you read your mail. Adware usually does not hide itself, though its ads may be annoying.
Spyware, on the other hand, is software which is designed to steal information from you, without your explicit permission, or to hijack your web browser. Typically it gets onto your computer by the back door – you download a piece of free software like a toolbar or a browser utility, click on the ‘OK’ button to install it, agree to the terms and conditions of use (which you don’t read) and the spyware is invisibly installed – in addition to the program you actually wanted. Another very common source of infection is by way of peer-to-peer software, which you may use to download free music or videos. Often the very purpose for which ‘free’ software is distributed is simply to spread associated spyware onto the machines of unsuspecting users. Or you can get spyware by innocently following a link to malicious web page, and then closing a deliberately annoying popup window by clicking on a button, which then installs a spyware script without your knowledge.
From that moment on, you have problems. The spyware will track your browsing habits, and deliver popup ads in excessive numbers. Sometimes these popups will be explicit ads for pornographic sites. Spyware may change your browser home page setting. It may overwrite legitimate ads or links on sites you visit. Or it may simply be waiting until you logon to your bank or make an online credit card purchase, to record your details and forward them to the spyware authors. Your modem may work furiously, even when you are not doing anything online.
Spyware is parasitical – it will use your computer’s resources, making it run more slowly, reduce your browsing speed by creating web traffic of its own, and it will leave you open to exploitation and theft.
Often, if your computer has been in use for more than a few months, and connected to the internet, it will have multiple spyware programs invisibly installed, all combining to degrade your computer’s performance. In fact, most people only realize they have a problem when their computer gets slower and slower at all tasks, particularly when they are online. Some users have been known to give up, and simply buy a new computer as a desperate solution. But soon, the cycle of infection will begin again.
So, how to remove spyware and adware? If you regularly update your operating system with the latest security patches, you reduce the chance of being infected in the first place. One of the main reasons Microsoft issues patches so often is to protect users from exploits by spyware authors, who have found ways to use the close integration of Microsoft’s browser and the Windows operating system to enable ‘drive by’ or automatic software installs.
Another way to limit the effect of spyware is to switch from using the most vulnerable and exploited browser, Internet Explorer, to another browser like Mozilla Firefox.
Sometimes, if spyware infection is extreme, it is recommended that you backup all your files, and reinstall your operating system from scratch using the original CDs, though this may be too risky or technically challenging for most computer users.
Another way, and probably the easiest way of all to get rid of spyware and adware is to install special software. This usually deals with spyware in two ways. First, it scans your computer and detects any spyware your computer is infected with, giving you the option of deleting it; then it runs in the background, and prevents any new spyware from installing itself. It will warn you of any suspicious programs or scripts which are trying to install themselves. To be effective, this special software must update itself regularly, so that it has information on the latest spyware threats.
This type of ‘anti-spyware’ protection is now essential for all computers connected to the internet. If you don’t have an anti-spyware program yet, its time to get it. Most vendors will offer you a free scan, so that you can see immediately if there is spyware on your computer. Since the scan is free, you have nothing to lose!
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