Spyware is one of the most challenging and frustrating problems faced by today's computer users and administrators. Even the savviest Internet surfers have discovered their systems are riddled with unwanted software that display popup ads, modify their search engines or home pages, slow down performance or even make the system unstable.
Step One: Back Up Your Data
Step Two: Look Around
Step Three: Choose An Anti-Spyware App
Step Four: If All Else Fails
Image Gallery: Clearing Restore Points
One major problem is in defining just what spyware is. Because there is no official definition of spyware, it's not unusual to see a company claiming its download is "spyware-free," even though its setup program installs additional unwanted software. Depending on the specific actions that the software takes, it could be classified as a hijacker, worm, Trojan, adware, or a viral marketing program.
Whatever the intruder is called, it doesn't benefit the user or the computer. It's just there for the benefit and profit of the company that made it. And the longer that software stays installed, the more money that company makes. How?
- Popup ads: After tracking your activities on the Internet, the software displays ads for similar sites or forces the browser to go to related Web sites.
- Commission theft: The software rewrites cookies or links to steal ad commissions from sites that you visit and send them to the spyware company instead.
- Search engine hijacking: Instead of showing search results from a site such as Google, the software redirects you to search results that are controlled by advertisers.
- Blackmail: After installation, the software displays warnings that the computer is infected by spyware and offers ads or links to their own spyware cleaners.
- Spamming: The software sends emails in your name, or appends messages to your outgoing emails, promoting their products.
Several common tactics are used by spyware to sneak onto systems and stay there:
- Bundling: Spyware or adware is included with another program, but not clearly disclosed.
- Drive-By Downloads: Spyware tries to load every time you visit a Web site.
- Fake Utilities: The spyware is disguised as a viewer or other utility that you "need" to, say, read a greeting card or view a video.
- Stealth: The spyware doesn't have a user interface to let you control how it works while it is running.
- Aliases: Different names are used for the software when it's downloaded, when it displays pop-up windows, and in uninstall entries.
The first step in fixing the problem is to get rid of all of your unwanted software. Once that's done, I'll show you some steps to make sure that it won't come back in the second part of this series.