What is spyware?
Spyware is software that is designed to change how your computer operates, usually to financially benefit a third party. The spyware is often coupled with a free program, to convince the user to install it. Spyware can lead to a number of performance issues, including systems slowing down to the point of being almost unusable or programs crashing whenever they are launched to dialing per-minute phone connections.
How do I tell if I have spyware on my computer?
There are several computer programs that are designed to detect spyware on your computer. These include Spybot - Search & Destroy by Patrick Kolla and AntiSpyware (Beta) by Microsoft.
How do I remove spyware from my computer?
The bad news is that there is no easy way to remove spyware from your computer. Because the people who write spyware make money by having their software on your computer, it is in their best interests to make it difficult to remove the software. So most spyware will not appear in Add/Remove Programs. Instead, your best bet will be to use the programs listed above to detect and remove spyware. You should be aware that some software will stop working if you uninstall the spyware portion of the program.
How do I protect myself from spyware in the future?
The main two ways to protect yourself from spyware are to enable automatic updates and be careful what you click. Keeping your system patched will help to protect you from "drive-by downloads". This is when spyware automatically downloads itself onto your machine through an unpatched security vulnerability. By being careful on what you click on, you decrease your chances of launching programs that will install on your computer. Going hand-in-hand with that is being careful about what you download. Many of the files that you may download via peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa, Morpheus, eDonkey, and others are actually disguised virus or spyware programs, pretending to be movies or music. To avoid this, you should never open a file downloaded from the Internet without making sure it is the type of file it claims to be. The easiest way to do this is by looking at the file extension. First, make sure that your file extensions are turned on. Do this by opening the Folder Options in the Control Panel (Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Folder Options). Then click the View tab and make sure Hide extensions for known file types is unchecked.
Now when you look for the file you have downloaded, make sure to look at the file extension, which is all of the characters that follow the last period in the file. Music files will typically have extensions like .wav, .mp3, .aac, and .ogg, while movie files will typically have extensions like .avi and .mpg. If the file has an extension of .exe, .pif, or .scr, it is intended to execute on your machine, and most likely contains a virus or spyware. Other extensions may also lead to the installation of viruses or spyware, so be careful with anything you have downloaded.