Is your computer experiencing any of these symptoms?
- Slow performance - You have a newer computer which is running very slow
- Frequent lockups - Your computer stops responding or generates errors which force you to reboot
- Pop-up ads - You receive pop-up ads even when you are not using your computer
- Your homepage has changed - When you start Internet Explorer, it displays an unfamiliar page
- Pornographic images appear on your computer screen - Or links to adult sites appear in your Internet Favorites
- Your computer displays other "weird" behavior - Rebooting by itself, programs not functioning properly, etc.
These are all indications that your computer may be infected with a type of software known as "Spyware" (sometimes called Adware or Malware).
Spyware is a huge problem... it is estimated that over 80% of all computer are infected. Besides slowing down your system and causing other usability problems, some spyware programs contain components to steal your personal data. This is definitely a problem that you need to take seriously.
You may wonder, "how does spyware get onto my system in the first place?" The thing to remember is that there is a LOT of money to be made by the people who control the spyware, so they will go to great lengths to get their software onto your system. Common methods include:
- Bundling - Spyware is included in useful software such as music sharing apps or "smilie" programs
- Through software "bugs" - Venerabilities in programs such as e-mail and browsers can allow a PC to become infected
- Social Engineering - They "trick" you into installing their software through misrepresentation, etc
Fortunately, there are legitimate programs to help keep spyware off of your system, and/or remove it once infected. Here are my top 3 picks to keep you safe.
CounterSpy by Sunbelt Software - $19.95 including a 1-year subscription
This program is simply the best available. Not only does it detect and remove more spyware than any other program, it also runs in the background to prevent spyware from installing on your computer in the first place. CounterSpy can be configured to update itself automatically and perform scheduled scans much like an antivirus program. I strongly recommend purchasing this program especially if you have kids that use your computer, or you have come in contact with spyware in the past.
Spybot Search & Destroy by Safer-Networking - Free
A good program at a great price (free). Spybot does a good job of detecting and removing spyware, but does very little to help keep it off of your system. Additionally, you must manually update the software, "immunize" your system, and run frequent scans to gain full advantage of the protection offered by this program. If you need a free program this is a good choice, otherwise spend the $19.95 for Counterspy.
AdAware SE by Lavasoft - Free for personal useThere are many tools that you can use to help prevent or remove spyware, I have only touched on the ones that I feel are most suited to use by end-users. The best defense is to keep your computer software up-to-date, use a hardware firewall, Install up-to-date antivirus software, and use one of the tools listed above to help prevent and remove spyware.
This was once the de facto standard for spyware removal, however the free version does nothing to protect you from becoming infected, and litigation has forced them to ignore some programs that are known spyware. I recommend this program only as a supplement to one of the programs listed above.
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