What Exactly Are Spyware and Adware, and How Can I Tell If I Have It?
Is your computer moving slower than usual? Is it crashing frequently? Do random advertisements keep popping up on your screen? If you replied “yes” to these questions, you might have adware or spyware installed on your computer.
“Adware” refers to software that displays advertisements on your computer screen. When your computer is turned on, these adware applications will automatically start running. These programs’ adverts may be insulting, and they can significantly slow down your computer, making it nearly unusable.
Adware packages typically include “spyware,” or monitoring software, which can steal sensitive information such as your online browsing history, financial details, and personal identification information. Of course, identity theft is possible with these details.
Some applications, known as dialers, can exploit your modem to make international phone calls, costing you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in unnecessary long-distance fees.
If you install spyware on your computer, it’s like letting a stranger into your home and remaining oblivious as he rifles through your belongings, makes copies of your credit card data, and monitors your every move.
Where, therefore, does it originate?
These malicious programs might enter your computer in several different ways. You might come upon a shareware app that constantly updates your computer with the latest weather forecasts. After downloading and installing the software, you will receive weather updates. Still, the program will also keep track of the websites you visit and use that information to show you more relevant advertisements.
In other situations, the adware program is a standalone component of an otherwise legitimate installation.
This is true of practically every tool designed for exchanging files. People utilize file-sharing software to get songs for free illegally. Due to its “free” nature, it requires the installation of adware before it can be used.
Please verify the software’s legitimacy before installing it. Many programs that promise to make your computer experience more enjoyable by providing you with customizable cursors, a talking parrot that sits on your screen and chats with you, or discount finder software, etc., are using “social engineering” to get you to download them by hiding their true intention to collect information from you.
Sites like Versiontracker.com and Download.com catalog millions of software titles for many operating systems. Sites like these are helpful because users may leave ratings and comments about the software they’ve downloaded, giving you insight into its quality and any issues users may have had.
You should always run a Google search to make sure, as an unsuspecting user who isn’t savvy about malware and adware might give it a positive rating.
And then there are the occasions when they sneak in without anyone noticing.
Adware can be deployed simply by visiting “seedy” websites (often adult or gambling sites, but not necessarily), as these sites are built to exploit vulnerabilities in browsers like Internet Explorer.
If a website you’re visiting displays a pop-up ad or message offering to install software on your computer or scan it for faults, you should be wary. This is especially true if the site has nothing to do with computers.
Never click on a pop-up ad if it asks you to download or install something. Most internet-connected Windows computers have at least one of these apps running covertly.
Adware and malware have been installed on roughly 80% of Windows computers I have inspected at work.
As mentioned in this article, Symantec has reported that more than 90% of machines are infected. The vast majority of infected computer owners are completely unaware of the problem.
For now, Macs enjoy the same level of protection from spyware as they do from viruses. Mac users should still pay attention since there will undoubtedly be more issues like these in the future for Macs, albeit not nearly as frequently as they occur on Windows PCs.
How, then, do you tidy up the chaos?
Fortunately, there are methods to disinfect an infected machine and safeguard against further infections.
Warning: many so-called anti-spyware solutions are malware installers that load even more malicious software onto your computer.
Don’t click on any pop-up ads ever again. Every Windows PC needs Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy to keep it clean and scan for new infections regularly.
Adware and spyware applications are notoriously difficult to uninstall. Still, you can usually fix the issue by using Ad-Aware and Spybot in tandem (not necessarily in that sequence, but one after the other). Ad-Aware and Spybot should be run at the very least once a week. No single software can find and eliminate all pests.
Be wary of what you download from download.com, where you can also get Ad-Aware (that’s A D hyphen A W A R E) and Spybot. There are sponsored links on that page with names similar to the ones I’m promoting, but they are entirely different software. The results of a Google search will be the same.
Some so-called “anti-spyware” software packages either don’t fix many issues or cause even more harm to your computer.
If you want to ensure that both apps are up-to-date, you should execute the “check for updates” function every time you launch any of them.
While it’s encouraging to see the widespread use of these tools, I’ve seen that most users bypass crucial procedures like installing program updates.
Even after I’ve shown them the exact procedures, they’ve forgotten a vital step and aren’t safe when I check in with them again weeks or months later.
Because of this, I made it a point to include video instructions in my simple and secure web and email course that show you how to install Ad-Aware and Spybot and guide you through using them properly to keep yourself safe and secure.
I’ve come to believe that there’s something else you can do to stop spyware from entering your system in the first place.
Stop using Internet Explorer as your primary browser on Windows. Although a pop-up blocker was implemented in IE not too long ago (a function other browsers have had for years), the program is still poorly built and has many security flaws.
Firefox and Opera are viable replacements for Internet Explorer; they feature pop-up blockers and are much more secure than IE. Mozilla Firefox, available at no cost at Mozilla.com, is my top pick. You can avoid losing your bookmarks and other customizations from Internet Explorer by importing them into the new browser when you launch it for the first time after installation.
Internet Explorer 6 for Windows (or higher) is required to browse a few websites, including the Multiple Listing Service system used by real estate agents in Hawaii. If you encounter one of these sites and are confident in its legitimacy, you can browse it via Explorer. However, you should avoid using Explorer if at all possible.
Although sites inaccessible to Mac users because they require Internet Explorer for Windows, are uncommon, they exist. The latest Intel-based Macs are the exception to the rule, as they can also run Windows, allowing access to the tiny fraction of websites that are only compatible with Internet Explorer on Windows.
Running Windows on any computer, whether a Mac or a traditional Windows PC, means dealing with all Windows’ security issues. A Mac’s “Mac only” features are safe from those issues.
I would advise any Mac user using Internet Explorer to upgrade to a more modern browser, not because of security concerns but because the software hasn’t been updated in a long time and doesn’t support modern browsers.
You can use any web browser, including Safari, Firefox, and Opera. These browsers are superior to the Mac version of Internet Explorer and feature built-in protections like pop-up blockers and other safety forms.
By the way, if you do use Safari, I highly recommend starting it up, selecting Safari > Preferences > Advanced, and completing the following: Check the “Block pop-up Windows” box, and then make sure the “Open ‘Safe’ files after downloading” option is unchecked in your browser’s preferences (General tab).
It’s crucial that you keep your computer clear of malicious software like adware and spyware. Please do everything you can to prevent infections on your system, and scan it regularly to catch anything that may have gotten through your defenses.
Worth Godwin is a computer coach who has worked in the industry for over 15 years, assisting users of all skill levels. He has also spent significant time “in the trenches” as a hardware and software tech, resolving real-world computer issues.
Since the early 1990s, Worth has also investigated the mind and the learning process. He uses his background, education, and writing skills to explain things in a way that makes sense to students.
Worth started compiling his straightforward courses on computer training CDs in 2006 to make it simple to learn computer essentials at your own pace, for a low price, and with a system that works.