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Spyware Overview

Support: Basics: Spyware

The vast majority of "average" PC users have computers that are already infected by spyware. The purpose of this document is to provide a very simplified overview and give you some tools to test your system or cleanse your system, if need be.

"Spyware" is basically any software that obtains information about you or your system and relays it to advertisers or other parties without your knowledge and without your explicit permission or consent. Software that is used solely for advertising purposes to track your surfing habits and preferences is often referred to as "adware."

Spyware programs may be installed on your system as the result of a computer virus or trojan that you've been tricked into opening, as a consequence of you having downloaded a free program or file that has the spyware attached, or as a result of you having innocently clicked on a popup window. Some games come bundled with spyware, and if you or someone using your computer or on your network is a gamer, you should be sure to also install some preventive programs that will alert you to potential spyware installation or better yet, block it.

Spyware can interfere with the operation of your system, causing your browser to "hang" or freeze.

In other cases, simply visiting a site may lead to "hijacking" (see below), and in yet other cases, someone may have intentionally installed software that will track your every keystroke and activity on your computer (keyloggers).

Adware programs that track your surfing habits usually claim that they collect no personally identifiable information and are only looking for aggregate data. In some cases, these claims have found to be false. The article, The Trouble With Spyware & Advertising-Supported Software may also give you another perspective on adware is truly harmless.

Browser Hijackers:

Some forms of spyware may disable your own browser controls and insert their own. As consequences, your home page may be changed, your Favorites folder may have new urls inserted that you are automatically redirected to (like porn sites), you may find yourself barraged with popup ads.

Attempts to remove browser hijackers are often frustrating because not only are the programs not listed in your control program's ADD/REMOVE programs, even when you think you've uninstalled the program, it may keep reappearing due to changes in your registry settings that will need to be addressed.

As if the above wouldn't be bad enough, browser hijackings can also lead to system instability or significant performance slowing. But perhaps the worst part is that your privacy and online security will be compromised because the malicious code will be sending back data to its controllers about the sites you visit and/or data you enter on those sites.

Detecting Spyware

Removing Spyware

Before rushing off to spyware removal tools, first determine if you are really infected. If the only symptom is that you are seeing a lot of popup windows, you may merely need to disable Windows Messenger.

Free spyware scans are available on many sites, including the following:

Alternatively, you may wish to download and install the following programs, which will not only scan your system, but aid in removal:

When using Ad-aware for the first time, we recommend that you set it for "deep scan."

Always be sure to back up all your files before attempting to remove anything.

Stay current on Spyware news by reading Privacy Watch!

 

 

There are a number of good freeware programs to remove spyware and adware:

Each of the above programs has its own unique and helpful features.

Other useful resources:

PC Hell provides free tools to help you remove spyware, organized by type/name of Spyware.

CWShredder 1.57.0 removes a very nasty browser hijacker known variously as CoolWebSearch, CoolWWWSearch, and various other names.

For additional freeware tools relating to spyware, you can also check the MajorGeeks.com spyware files.

Always be sure to back up all your files before attempting to remove anything.

Preventing Spyware

Undoing Hijacked Browsers

All too often, computer users do not carefully read the agreement before downloading a program or file and are actually consenting to the installation.

In other cases, there may be a "driveby" installation of a program just by visiting a site.

Some freeware programs to help you prevent spyware include:

SpywareBlaster - a freeware program that will warn you so that you don't inadvertently install spyware. It will not, however, protect you if you click "I agree" to a site without first checking to see what you are agreeing to.

SpywareGuard - protects you from some spyware by scanning files when you try to access them and then alerting you if the programs are known spyware.

SpyChecker - enables you to enter the name of a program to see if it is spyware before you download it.

Spyware-Guide - provides an alphabetical listing of known spyware so you can check in advance.

Notes:

  • Some pages may not load properly (or at all) if you block the adware or spyware.
  • Some programs may conflict with other programs on your computer.
  • Always be sure to back up all your files before attempting to remove anything.

Additional Reading:

If your browser has been hijacked and you're really lucky, simply resetting the home page in your browser Options and deleting unwanted entries from your Favorites folder may be sufficient.

All too often, however, things aren't quite so simple, and you will find restoring your system to be a royal pain.

Although some of these programs offer their own so-called removal or uninstall tools, the removal tools generally don't delete all of the files and settings in your registry, and you may have to edit your registry to permanently rid yourself of some of this stuff.

If using any of the spyware removal tools listed on this page does not help, try using Google to research your situation. You can also see a set of registry editing instructions on the SpywareInfo site, but once again:

Always be sure to back up all your files before attempting to remove anything, and be sure to back up your registry before attempting to edit it. Cotse.Net will not be responsible for any lost data or damage to your system.


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