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Spyware, adware, malware removal

What is spyware?

Spyware is software that monitors your computer activities to varying degrees, usually for marketing purposes, but may also be used for criminal activities. It ranges from reasonably benign (e.g. displaying pop-up windows with adverts related to web sites you are browsing) through to seriously malevolent (e.g. may collect credit card details or bank account passwords). Most are capable of reporting this information back to the author. Some kinds will install a hidden modem dialler that will cost you up to £1.50 per minute.

How do I know I am infected?

Are you running Microsoft Windows? Then chances are your PC is infected. Recently, it has become very unusual to see an Internet connected MS Windows based computer that has not got at least one variety of spyware running on it.
Very often, the first you know is your computer has got so slow that it is virtually unusable. Your Microsoft Internet Explorer home page may have changed or you may keep getting pop up windows appearing. Some spyware will redirect you to a web page you have not requested, and you should check your phone bill...

How do I get rid of it?

The first thing you should do is to install, update and run a spyware checker. Examples are Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware, and the new Microsoft product Microsoft Windows Antispyware. You may have to run more than one of these, as some are better at removing certain malware than others. This will get rid of most of your infections, but there are some types of spyware out there that can be very difficult to remove, and need important system files edited by hand to eradicate completely. This can have serious consequences if it goes wrong (such as not being able to start Windows) and is best left to an experienced person.

Why does it keep coming back?

See above - some malware has been written so that it runs from certain files that cannot be deleted while windows is running. Although you may be able to remove most of the infection, the computer will become re-infected next time you switch it on.

How do I avoid getting infected?

Be very wary about installing software downloaded from the Internet without checking it out first - some software is only free because the author obtains revenue from the spyware payload it carries. A simple way to do this is to use a search engine such as Google - just type the program name and 'spyware' in to the search box and see if anything comes up.
Think before clicking on links in emails - some spyware can be installed in this way.
Think before you click on a pop-up. Close them using the cross in the top right corner - never click inside the window, as this may activate something nasty...

Consider using an alternative web browser, such as Firefox or Opera - these are much less likely to offer a route for infections, and you may even prefer some of their features, such as tabbed browsing.
Keep Windows updated using 'Windows Update' - you'll find it in the start menu if it's not already activated.
Make sure you have an up to date firewall in place - or better still, a hardware firewall such as an ADSL modem/router as well.

For more information, give us a call or email Chris for an informal chat.