Spyware

Any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet. Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers. Also called adware.

Spyware is commonly known as malicious software installed on a machine, sometimes with a user's consent. Some software producers and webmasters who offer downloadable content put spyware in executable downloads in order to earn a profit from a third party or track the activity of a user.

Spyware is a relatively new kind of threat that common anti-virus applications do not yet cover. If you see new toolbars in your Internet Explorer that you didn't intentionally install, if your browser crashes, or if you browser start page has changed without your knowing, you most probably have spyware. But even if you don't see anything, you may be infected, because more and more spyware is emerging that is silently tracking your surfing behavior to create a marketing profile of you that will be sold to advertisement companies.

 

How can I detect / remove these spyware programs?

Spyware can be removed with free products like SuperAntiSpyware and Spybot Search & Destroy. By the way, these free products DO NOT include or install any spyware or ad components. There exists software being promoted as spyware removers where in fact, those programs actually install new spyware components in your computer! There are a lot of spyware removers, just be wary of those not mentioned in the top-10 lists on specialized computer magazines/websites. Any competent IT specialist can point you to the best software for your particular needs.

 

Signs of Spyware infection

  • You enter a search term in Internet Explorer's address bar and press Enter to start the search. Instead of your usual search site, an unfamiliar site handles the search.

  • Your antispyware program or another protective program stops working correctly. It may warn you that certain necessary support files are missing, but if you restore the files they go missing again. It may appear to launch normally and then spontaneously shut down, or it may simply crash whenever you try to run it.

  • A new item appears in your Favorites list, Start menu or Desktop without your putting it there. No matter how many times you delete it, the item always reappears later.

  • Your system runs noticeably slower than it did before. If you're a Windows 2000/XP user, launching the Task Manager and clicking the Processes tab reveals that an unfamiliar process is using nearly 100 percent of available CPU cycles.

  • At a time when you're not doing anything online, the send or receive lights on your dial-up or broadband modem blink just as wildly as when you're downloading a file or surfing the Web. Or the network/modem icon in your system tray flashes rapidly even when you're not using the connection.

  • A search toolbar or other browser toolbar appears even though you didn't request or install it. Your attempts to remove it fail, or it comes back after removal.

  • You get pop-up advertisements when your browser is not running or when your system is not even connected to the Internet, or you get pop-up ads that address you by name.

  • When you start your browser, the home page has changed to something undesirable. You change it back manually, but before long you find that it has changed back again.

  • And the final sign is: Everything appears to be normal. The most devious spyware doesn't leave traces you'd notice, so scan your system anyway.

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