SpyWare / Pests

One thing to remember about controlling pests, spyware and malware is. . .  there is safety in numbers.  Just as three musketeers are stronger than one, three spyware programs are better than one!

Like it or not, spyware is on your computer.  In fact, according to a National Cyber Security Alliance/AOL study, more than 91% of all PCs connected to the internet are infected with some form of spyware.

Spyware is software or hardware that is installed on your computer without your knowledge.  It gathers information about you to be used by whoever controls the spyware.

How do you know if you have spyware on your system?  Unfortunately, you don’t always know.  Sometimes you have to just check.   However, here are some of the signs you may have unwanted software installed on your computer:

  • Frequent pop-up advertisements
  • A change in your settings – especially your home page and search pages
  • You see new toolbars you don’t remember adding
  • Your computer seems sluggish or crashes repeatedly
  • Important data has been erased
  • Your firewall has been disabled, leaving you unprotected
  • Your computer is being used to send spam
  • Everything you do online is being tracked

Spyware can be broken down into two different categories, surveillance spyware and advertising spyware.

Surveillance Software includes key loggers, screen capture devices, and trojans.

Advertising Spyware logs information about the user, possibly including passwords, email addresses, web browsing history, online buying habits, the computer’s hardware and software configuration, the name, age, sex, etc. of the user.

As with spam, surveillance software and advertising spyware can use up valuable resources on your computer – like your CPU and RAM – and it can really slow your computer down. 

It uses your bandwidth to connect to the Internet and upload whatever personal information it has gathered about you.  It also downloads advertisements in the form of pop-up windows, ad banners or other ad-supported software. All of this can be considered theft in the cases of advertising spyware that installs without disclosure.

And while anti-virus software can offer some protection, one of the best ways to combat spyware is with anti-spy software. I use three heavy hitters of spyware – and they all just happen to have free versions too.   Just remember, you do get superior protection with the paid versions.

My first recommendation is Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition by Lavasoft:

The free version of Ad-Aware does not proactively protect against spyware infestation. You have to start the Ad-Aware application and initiate a scan to detect spyware. But the paid version, Ad-Aware Plus does remain alert in the background.

My second recommendation is Spybot Search & Destroy.  It is free, but a donation is appreciated:

Spybot Search & Destroy can detect and remove spyware of different kinds from your computer. The program also has an immunize function that will prevent the spyware from getting on your computer in the first place.

Finally, let’s look at Microsoft.  Believe it or not, Microsoft does give something away for nothing!  From their website you can download Microsoft Windows® Defender.

According to Microsoft, “Windows® Defender (Beta) displays detailed information about every spyware program detected, including a description of the threat, where it is located on your computer, a risk rating, and a recommended action to take. This information enables you to make informed decisions regarding removal. Detected spyware can be either temporarily disabled using Spyware Quarantine or permanently removed from your computer.”

NOTE:  Some popular programs that install Spyware on your computer are: Kazaa, BearShare, AudioGalaxy, Gator, Bonzai Buddy, Comet Cursor, WebHancer, Brilliant Digital, CommonName, & Trickler.

NOTE:  Spyware attacks through certain programs, and Internet Explorer seems to be a magnet for spyware.  That’s because it’s the most popular browser on the market – which equals more people using it – which means the evil doers will affect more people using it!   Consider switching to an open source browser like FireFox.