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Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
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Anti-Spyware Strategies, Part 1:
Clean Out Your System

Do you suspect that your system is infected with adware, spyware, or other malware? Here's how to get rid of it.

Step Three: Choose An Anti-Spyware App
If the system has only a mild case of adware, it often can be cured through Add/Remove Programs. For more serious infections, it's best to turn to anti-spyware programs. These programs can completely clean and remove most infections, and many can help to prevent reinfection.

Before even thinking about buying an anti-spyware app, you should try one or more of the free solutions that are available. Three very good options are Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal, Patrick Kolla's Spybot Search & Destroy, and Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware. Since they're all free, you might as well try them all. The Microsoft product is a beta — it's been in beta for more than year — but it's stable and works well.

Anti-Spyware Strategies, Part 1

•  Introduction

•  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

Many antivirus and firewall vendors have belatedly gotten into the anti-spyware act as well, including McAfee, Symantec, and Computer Associates. However, it is often not part of their basic product offering; you may need to upgrade to their product suite or other bundle. If you already have products from one of these vendors and want to purchase more anti-spyware protection, the company's matching anti-spyware product will probably offer the best compatibility with your existing security software.

Note: Choosing anti-spyware applications can be dangerous in itself — especially for those of your clients who are unwary or easily panicked. Many programs sold over the Internet are ineffective, but are marketed aggressively through popup advertising and Google Adwords. Some programs are even sold using extortion tactics; they infect a system and then send you to the Web site where you can purchase their spyware cleaning solution.

It's a good idea to educate your clients to prevent them from falling for such tactics. Eric Howes' list of Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web Sites is a good place to go for a reality check when faced with a possibly bogus anti-spyware product.

Step Four: Run Your Anti-Spyware
Anti-spyware products all operate in the same basic way. When you run them, they scan the running processes, files, and registry looking for undesirable programs and settings. Once the scan is complete, they provide a report of what they found and give you the opportunity to perform a cleanup. You could also have a chance to modify the recommendations before making the cleanup, or be able to select whether to permanently delete or simply quarantine the files in case you want them later.

Be conservative when using these tools — when in doubt about a file or process that has been identified as spyware, don't remove it. Remember that you can always do a second scan-and-remove later.

In fact, each anti-spyware tool has slightly different abilities and criteria for determining whether a program is unwanted, which is another reason to use multiple scanners when you suspect trouble. For example, when I ran several anti-spyware apps on my system, neither Spybot nor Ad-Aware detected some remnants of 180Solutions' Zango, but Microsoft Antispyware did. Yet Spybot was the only one of the three to notice that the antivirus notification had been turned off in Windows Security Center.

Once your system in good working order, be sure to go back and re-enable System Restore if you turned it off. Create a fresh restore point as well. That will give you some insurance in case spyware re-infests the system.

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