Like viruses and other malware, spyware is at best annoying, and at worst malicious. It is software that you unknowingly install when you download and install other software. For example, if you install some kind of weather or news feed to your computer, it’s possible that the application has inside it some kind of spyware that isn’t mentioned in the license and use agreement. Spyware can cause serious problems, compromising your computer’s security and potentially sending sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, to the spyware’s creator.
One of the most common forms of spyware is adware, advertising software, that will either run in the program window itself or in pop-up windows. These advertisements are usually for legitimate products, but they can still be annoying if not intrusive. They can track the web sites you visit and then send that info back to the advertiser. Some people might defend the practice as market research, but the activity can interfere with your computer’s performance, especially if it gets to the point that you have so many pop-up windows opening that you can’t effectively use your computer.
The good news is that there are several software applications that detect and remove spyware and other malicious programs from your computer. You can safely download these from the Internet at no charge:
- Malwarebytes: http://www.malwarebytes.org
- Ad-Aware: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/
- Spybot: http://www.safernetworking.org/en/download/
Signs that Spyware Might Be on Your Computer
- Bombarded with pop-up ads, especially if you get pop-up ads when you’re not browsing the Web, or when you first turn on your computer.
- Web browser settings have changed, and you didn’t change them or you can’t change them back. For example, when you open your web browser it uses something other than what you had set as its home page.
- Web browser now has new components or options in its menus or toolbars. If you have spyware it’s also likely that even if you remove the toolbars they’ll reappear the next time you start your web browser or restart your computer.
- Computer seems to be running slowly, and gets slower all the time. Spyware works without you seeing it, while using your computer’s memory and processing resources, so it can slow down your machine. In addition to the machine running more slowly, you might notice some programs crashing (just quit working) often, or more often than normal.