By John Anderson
Spyware on your computer? It’s more likely
than you think. Ninety percent of Internet-connected computers are infected
with some form of spyware. If you surf the Internet, send e-mail, share files,
chat with an instant messenger or have ever downloaded a
“free” program, chances are high that your system is now infected
At the very least, spyware is a nuisance – slowing
down your computer, taking up hard drive space with useless junk and marking
you as a target for advertisers. Beyond intruding on your privacy, spyware
can also be used as a tool to gather personal information used in identify
What is Spyware?
Spyware is any software downloaded and installed on your computer without
your knowledge that performs certain tasks on your computer, typically without
your consent. This may include giving you advertising or collecting personal
information about you.
Most often the information is gathered in order to study
Internet surfing habits, such as websites visited, type of Internet connection
and time spent online. After they retrieve this information, the data is then
used or sold to other companies. Once the spyware is installed on your computer
it can trigger pop-up ads targeted at your perceived interests and, if the
spyware has found your e-mail addresses, spam.
Advertisers are delighted when they acquire such valuable
marketing information so easily; in the past, marketers had to spend thousands
of dollars on contests and registration surveys to learn your preferences.
Gaining your preferences by stealth using software spies is far easier and
offers a much more complete picture for the marketing industry; as a result,
spyware is everywhere.
Many times you can receive spyware just by visiting a website
in the form of a drive-by download. A drive-by download occurs when software
is automatically downloaded and installed on a user’s machine without
the consent or knowledge of the user. The invisibility of the drive-by download
is what makes this form of installation especially sneaky. Many users never
realize the program is being downloaded, installed and running because they
are never prompted or notified.
So, How Do You Know If You Have Spyware?
While there is plenty of content available on the Internet that is safe
from spyware, there are many free and nearly-free software packages that contain
spyware. Here’s how spyware ends up on your hard drive and what you can
do to prevent it.
The most common methods used to trick you into installing
on deceptive pop-ups
free utilities, games, toolbars, media players, etc.
Check your security settings. A low security setting allows
cookies and spyware programs to easily be stored on your computer. A few things
that you can do in order to keep spyware off your computer include setting
your Internet security at the default level or higher, evaluating what you
download, downloading current operating systems updates and installing an anti-spyware
program on your computer to catch all that you miss. Anti-spyware will find
and delete spyware that your computer unwittingly accepts.
Be suspicious. If the source doesn’t seem familiar
or trustworthy, don’t open the e-mail, click the popup or visit the site.
Get your software from a source that you trust; sometimes the free ones are
not worth the price you pay in frustration. Spyware that was installed along
with downloaded software may still exist even after these programs have been
removed from your system.
How to Remove Spyware
Type “spyware” into your favorite browser and you will find
millions of results for software, articles and tips to help you with your spyware
woes. Many are free, but if you want tech support, software updates and ease
of use you will probably be spending $30 to keep the spies out.
Here are a few quick tips:
you install anti-spyware, make sure that it starts automatically with Windows.
This will ensure that you are protected at all times.
your software frequently to make sure that you are protected from any new spyware
you are a frequent downloader you may want to use more than one anti-spyware
program. Each works a little differently and may detect spyware that others
Also, if using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer you can
turn off its ability to run scripts without your permission. In Internet Explorer
(IE), click Tools > Internet Options > Security. Select the Earth icon
under “Select a Web content zone”, and then Custom Level. Disable “Download
unsigned ActiveX controls”, “Initialize and script ActiveX controls
not marked as safe”, “Active scripting”, and “Scripting
of Java applets”. Then set Java permissions to High Safety.
Of course, with scripting disabled some of your favorite
websites may no longer be usable. But there is a solution. In IE, go to Tools > Internet
Options > Security > Trusted Sites > Sites and enter the URLs of known
safe sites requiring scripting, one at a time. Uncheck “Require server
verification” for all sites in this zone, then click on OK.
A few of the most popular anti-spyware programs are Adaware
and Spybot (www.spybot.info).
Each has a wide variety of features that will let you protect our computer
from sneaky software.
CNet’s Download.com (www.download.com/Spyware-Center/2001-2023_4-0.html?tag=stbc.gp)
offers articles and tutorials in their Spyware Center to help you remove existing
spyware and protect you from future installation attempts.
They also offer removal tools that are sorted by user rating
and price (and, yes, there are quite a few that are free).
Spyware is annoying and can lead to some serious headaches,
but if you take the appropriate precautions you can avoid troubles and keep
your PC clean.