All about SpyWare
What is Spyware?
Broadly speaking, Spyware is something that sneaks on to your computer, usually with the intentions of extracting money from you. At its worst, Spyware can take control of your computer, directing you to web pages you didn't want to go to, downloading other nasty stuff in the background, and even harvesting email address, passwords and your credit card details. But even a mild case of Spyware infection can be nuisance.
If you've ever been plagued by annoying pop-ups when your computer loads, or have strange new icons where your clock is (bottom right, called the System Tray), or if you're directed to a strange webpage when you try to go on to the internet, then you may well be infected.
Spyware, in the main, gathers information about you and your online habits, and sends that information to third party. And all without asking for your permission!
Where does Spyware come from?
Spyware can come from a whole host of different sources. But Spyware mainly gets on to your PC through deception. For example, suppose you receive this email:
You'd assume that this email was sent to you in error. Can you resist clicking on the link? After all, what harm can it do? Well, a lot actually! There well may be a joke on the site, but there's something less funny going on in the background - the web page is trying to sneak something on to your PC! You may also have seen a harmless-looking popup window asking you to click a button to proceed. You'll click it anyway, just to get rid of it. Clicking OK is what's infected your PC!
Other sources of Spyware infection are freeware or shareware software, an operating system that is un-patched and hasn't got the latest security software, downloading stuff from peer-to peer applications - the list is long!
And don't think your Anti-Virus software will protect you - it won't! Spyware is not considered to be a virus, so your Anti-Virus software won't spring in to action once an infection takes place - it will stay sleeping in the background, unaware that anything malicious is going on. The best tool for the job is a dedicated Spyware Detection system.
Beware of the Scam Merchants!
You may have come across a website that promises to check your PC for Spyware infection. All for free. All you need to do is to click a button to scan your PC. So you download, scan, and lo and behold - it's found something! Then up pops a message directing you to a website that lets you buy the software.
Except, it didn't really detect anything. Or if it did, it's what's know as a false positive (Something that sounds dangerous but isn't). The job of the scan is to scare you into buying their software.
If you type in "Spyware detection" into Google, most of the results that come back are for these types of programmes.
Hopefully, you haven't bought any scam software! Even if you haven't, check out the alarmingly long list of scam Spyware on spywarewarrior.com (Fortunately, they also have a good-software list!)
If you've bought any of the software on the bad list then the protection you have is at no protection at all. At worst, these pieces of software can be incredibly difficult to get rid of - Spyware themselves!
How to get Rid of Spyware
As a computer owner, you really need your wits about you in the Spyware detection game. So what are you to do if you can't even trust the very people who say they are going to help you clean your PC? Well, you can fight back! The best way to do that is with software from very reputable companies. The following are the most well-known (and free) anti-spyware solutions: (Though they tend to offer an anti-virus and anti-spyware package all-in-one, these days.)
Ad-Aware is probably the easiest to use of the three. SpyBot is good, but a bit complex for beginners. Microsoft Windows Defender is well worth getting, too. However, it's not the easiest piece of software in the world to use. You do get some good tools with it, though. Check out the websites by clicking the links above (there's a tutorial on the Microsoft site for Windows Defender).
Once you download your chosen anti-spyware solution, you need to install it on to your PC. After you have installed it, start the software and do a full scan of your computer. (Ad-Aware has a nice big button that says "Scan"!)
Unlike anti-virus software, it IS recommended that you have more than one anti-spyware solution on your PC. This is because spyware can be very difficult to get rid of, and anti-spyware software will rarely find 100 percent of threats. By having more than one solution, what one piece of anti-spyware programme misses, the other should (hopefully) pick it up.