Spyware is the number cause of computer related service calls.  (Read why)

What is spyware?

Spyware sends information from your computer to a third party, usually as part of an advertising-supported software product. Other terms used to describe this type of nuisance include adware, malware, keyloggers, phishing attacks and snoopware. Each of these terms has a slightly different meaning, and in the absence of an official definition, even lawmakers are continually reworking the definition of spyware. Not all adware products are spying on you, and not all spyware pesters you with pop-up advertisements. However, the word "spyware" has become the generic term for all of the above.

Spyware makers usually want information about your surfing habits to better target pop-up advertisements toward your preferences. However, they could violate your privacy even further by transmitting your name, gender, age, address, passwords or any other personal information you have saved on your computer.

 

 
Where does it come from?

There are three main techniques used to distribute spyware.

  • Adware is often bundled with free software programs. These programs require users to accept pop-up advertising as part of the service they provide. If you have installed one of these products, file-sharing software or other similar products, you may have unknowingly agreed to view pop-up ads.
  • Some Web sites require that you install an application before you use their site or in order to access their products. Have you ever visited a Web site and been prompted to install something? Some sites, usually ones that offer free products, use this method to trick users into downloading spyware.
  • Spyware makers also exploit security holes using viruses, fake email messages, Trojan horses and ActiveX controls. Using anti-virus software, ignoring email attachments from unknown senders and keeping your computer up to date with the latest security patches will mitigate this third risk.

 

 
How do I know if my computer is infected with spyware?

Any computer that has ever been connected to the Internet could potentially be infected with spyware. There are a number of ways it can impact your system, including the following:

  • Poor performance could indicate that your system's resources are bogged down with running spyware. Take note if your computer is slow, crashing, freezing up or otherwise unstable.
  • Unwanted browser behavior could be a sign that your browser has been hijacked by spyware. The default page you see when you open a browser window has changed. You're being redirected to search results on pages you don't recognize. Your toolbar has been replaced with something you haven't seen before.
  • Pop-ups when you aren't on the Internet are another telltale sign. You're getting pop-ups even with pop-up blocking software installed and running, or you're seeing advertisements when not on the Internet.
  • Problems using secure Web sites are sometimes caused by spyware. You could have trouble logging into or using secure Web sites like WebMail, Outlook Express and WebCT.

Not necessarily all of these things will happen as a result of spyware. Your computer could be infected even if you're only experiencing a single symptom. Even a machine that is running normally could be infected with spyware.

 

 
Prevention
  • Ignore email messages from senders you don't recognize. The messages could be spam intended to install spyware on your computer.
  • Most spyware is designed for Microsoft Windows and the Internet Explorer browser because the vast majority of computers use these technologies. Using an alternate OS or a different browser could decrease your risk.
  • Install an Internet browser popup blocker application to cut down on the browser induced popup.
  • Install a licensed anti-spyware product on your computer as well as a licenses anti-virus application.
  • Scan your computer regularly for spyware and viruses.
  • Never click anywhere in the body of the popup, either use the red "X" or "close" on the window.  If these options aren't available, in windows you can use the alt+f4 keystroke to close the window.