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Spyware Detection and Removal
You may not have heard of it before, but chances are it has been on your computer or a computer of someone you know. Spyware is a general term for a program that surreptitiously monitors your actions. While sometimes the spyware is sinister, like a remote control program used by a hacker, software companies have been known to use spyware to gather data about customers.
Also known as "adware", it many times is a hidden software program that transmits user information via the Internet to advertisers in exchange for use of free downloaded software. There are concerns that some Web sites and commercial organizations track users' online activity through the use of these "adware" utilities. Usually coming in the form of 'cookies' - these enable the cookie writer to build-up information about what you do and where you go on the Web.
So what does this all mean for the average computer user? Many things. First is that, if spyware is installed on a users machine, that machine may begin running slower as more and more spyware tracking applications run in the background. Secondly, these applications many times will have random and targeted "pop-up advertisements" that will occur as the machine surfs the Internet. These pop-up ads can become not only an annoyance to ones browsing experience, but in certain instances can cause computer problems as well. Third, some of the more malicious applications will "hijack" your Internet connection, causing your home page to constantly change to whatever it chooses and even causing so many ads popping up that you cannot close them fast enough.
What can someone do to avoid, prevent, and remove Spyware?
- Make sure to run an antispyware application. Perform on-demand scans regularly to root out spyware that slips through the cracks. Reboot after removal and rescan to make sure no ticklers, which are designed to reinstall spyware, have resurrected any deleted apps. Additionally, even though we are not overly impressed with any app's real-time blocking abilities, activate whatever your app of choice offers; it's nearly always better than nothing.
You can find many options for Spyware removal applications by going to your favorite search engine and typing "spyware removal". You can also find many options available at Download.com in their Adware Removal sections.
- Give your Anti-Spyware some backup. Many times one version of spyware protection software will not detect everything out there. If you are having trouble with your machine and feel it may be spyware related, try downloading a secondary program to see if it finds any additional applications. Many times even running 3 or 4 different programs may not find everything out there as the world of spyware and adware changes so frequently.
In addition to an antispyware application, make sure to run both software and hardware firewalls and Anti-Virus applications to protect yourself against Trojan horses (and viruses, naturally). Windows XP comes with a built in firewall that can be easily enabled when creating a connection and most high speed Internet equipment come with firewalls as well.
- Beware of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services. Many of the most popular applications such as Kazaa and Morpheus include spyware in their installation procedures. Also, never download any executables via P2P, because you can't be absolutely certain what they are. Actually, it's a good idea to avoid downloading executables from anywhere but vendors or major, well-checked sites.
- Watch out for cookies. While they may not be the worst form of spyware, information gathered via cookies can sometimes be matched with information gathered elsewhere (via Web bugs, for example) to provide surprisingly detailed profiles of you and your browsing habits. You can clear your cookies from your browser on a regular basis by simply opening your Internet Explorer, clicking on Tools and Internet Options, and then selection the button to Delete Cookies.
- Avoid bugged junkmail. Web bugs are sneaky scripts that are activated when you open contaminated HTML e-mail. Get rid of unsolicited e-mail without reading it when you can and even turn off the preview pane so that you can delete messages without opening them. In most versions of Outlook Express you can click on View and Layout and then uncheck the option for having the preview pane open. Make sure that you do not download pictures or other content automatically in HTML e-mail is checked.
- Don't install anything without knowing exactly what it is. This means reading the end-user license agreement (EULA) carefully, as some EULAs will actually tell you that if you install the application in question, you've also decided to install some spyware with the software. Check independent sources as well, as some EULAs won't tell you about spyware.
- Protect yourself against "accidental" downloads. Make sure your browser settings are set well enough to protect you. In Internet Explorer, this means your security settings (under Tools and Internet Options) for the Internet Zone should be at least medium. Deny the browser permission to install any ActiveX control you haven't requested.