Use following information to learn tips and tools to help you avoid, detect, or remove adware and spyware programs.
Examples of Adware and Spyware
The following are three examples of spyware applications.
- Keystroke loggers and screen capture utilities are installed by a third party to monitor work habits, observe online behavior, or capture passwords and other information.
- Adware and similar applications that install themselves through drive-by downloads or by piggybacking on other applications. They track user behaviors in order to take advantage of their internet connection.
- Legitimate applications that have faulty or weak user-privacy protections.
There are many reasons why someone would install adware or spyware on your computer. The most notable include the following.
- Product advertising: Companies pay adware developers to find ways to show their products to you. Some may be as simple as a pop-up ad that displays when you go to a particular website. More ingenious methods involve installing a small software program on your computer that can be continuously updated by these developers when new products are available.
- Track your web-surfing habits for marketing new products: Developers create small programs that track your surfing habits, which are then categorized for companies to create targeted marketing campaigns.
- Identity theft: This is the most malicious use of spyware. Developers create programs that capture personal information that they can use to obtain bank accounts, credit cards, and so on. Many of the most popular spyware applications promise the ability to execute using remote installation. Remote installation is the ability to put a spyware program on a computer without having physical access to the machine.
Symptoms of Adware and Spyware
The best way to find out if your computer has been infected with spyware is to use software designed for that purpose. However, because many of these applications communicate with other computers - and are programs themselves - they use system resources which include memory, CPU cycles, and an internet connection. As a result, the following are some symptoms you might notice.
- Slow Computer: Although there are many reasons why your computer may run slowly, if you use your computer daily then you are familiar with how it behaves. If your computer is older or running certain applications, this can cause a computer to run slowly. However, if suddenly it begins to run much slower, this could be a sign of an adware or spyware infection.
- Unknown Email Activity: If you start noticing email sent without your knowledge or you start receiving a large number of bounced emails that you did not send, then you may have been infected. There are some types of programs that can send out spam from your computer using your address book. Others can return the email addresses in your address book to a spammer to be used for unsolicited email.
- Odd Computer Behavior: You may notice strange activity with your computer, such as hard drive activity when you are not doing anything, an unknown icon in your Windows system tray, changed settings, CD drives opening and shutting, or programs mysteriously opening and closing. These could be signs of spyware running on your computer.
Detecting Adware and Spyware
Detecting adware or spyware on your computer is not easy and depends upon the program itself. To begin, you can check your Windows Programs list or the Windows Start-Up folder.
- Check your Windows Programs list for any unknown programs. Go to Control Panel and check under Add / Remove Programs.
- Check your Windows Start-Up folder for any unknown programs. If you are uncertain if a program is considered adware and spyware, you can always check the program against spyware databases which can be found by searching the internet.
Removing Adware and Spyware
If you believe you are infected with adware and spyware, the easiest way to detect and remove it is by the use of anti-spyware software or scanning software. Anti-spyware software is a different tool from anti-virus software but operates similarly by scanning the hard drive for files associated with known adware and spyware programs. The software then returns any found programs and allows the user to determine what course of action to take.
Protecting Your Computer
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- Be cautious of downloads. Many of these applications are installed using drive-by downloads, which use misleading tactics to install them. Many times users have no idea they have installed the application. Many developers will design their applications to be difficult to uninstall. If a small portion remains on your computer, it has the ability to rebuild itself, so be careful what you download. Be sure to read any privacy policies offered by the site and only install applications when you are certain what functions they are performing and after you read the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA).
- Be suspicious of pop-up ads. Do not download programs from pop-up ads or unknown sites. Also, be sure to close any window that looks suspicious, and do so properly by clicking the X in the upper right corner of the box. But we careful: some pop-up ads that contain an X will, instead of closing, actually open the ad. To be safe, always close the window from your Windows task bar by right-clicking the window located on your task bar. This is generally found at the bottom of your screen. Once found, click Close.
- Stay updated. Keeping up with the latest security patches, fixes, and service packs will help prevent some of the pests from getting on your computer.
- Scan regularly. Make sure you regularly scan your computer hard drive for malicious programs by using your anti-spyware tool.