No matter how careful you are, there’s a good chance your computer will eventually have some sort of spyware hidden away. It happens to us all, myself included which goes to emphasise my point. Spyware programs are getting onto people’s computers every day, and many machines out there have no defence against them. The frequency at which these programs are appearing is startling. According to a 2005 study by AOL and the National Cyber-Security Alliance, 61 percent of surveyed users’ computers had some form of spyware. 92 percent of surveyed users with spyware reported that they did not know of its presence, and 91 percent reported that they had not given permission for the installation of the spyware. (source: wikipedia)
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyware) defines spyware thus:
“Spyware is a type of malware that is installed on computers and collects little bits of information at a time about users without their knowledge. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user, and can be difficult to detect. Typically, spyware is secretly installed on the user’s personal computer. Sometimes, however, spywares such as keyloggers are installed by the owner of a shared, corporate, or public computer on purpose in order to secretly monitor other users.
While the term spyware suggests that software that secretly monitors the user’s computing, the functions of spyware extend well beyond simple monitoring. Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits and sites that have been visited, but can also interfere with user control of the computer in other ways, such as installing additional software and redirecting Web browser activity. Spyware is known to change computer settings, resulting in slow connection speeds, different home pages, and/or loss of Internet or functionality of other programs. In an attempt to increase the understanding of spyware, a more formal classification of its included software types is captured under the term privacy-invasive software.”
There are less harmful forms of spyware like tracking cookies, but these are still compromising your privacy Other forms are far more dangerous and it is essential to detect and destroy these items before you unwittingly reveal details about yourself, such as bank details. This article lists a few good anti-spyware tools you may not have previously been aware of. In order to eradicate problems completely, you may need to use more than one, perhaps all, of these tools since none of the anti-spyware programs available can find everything by themselves.
i) Ad-Aware from Lavasoft is a common anti-spyware tool, as of July 2010 it is at release 8.3. It is packaged in several versions including a free version for personal use only. (www.lavasoft.com) For those who pay, there are added features such as a firewall, anti-rootkit detection and even parental control.
ii) Spybot (www.safer-networking.org) is a long-established freeware tool for the detection and removal of spyware.
It is currently at release 1.6.2, and updates are frequently released. It also now includes TeaTimer, which alerts the user when a change to the Windows Registry is wanted. The registry is only changed when a program is updated, installed or uninstalled, an unexpected alert could mean spyware is present. However, there are known conflict issues with popular commercial security suites, such as Norton or McAfee, so it may be worth considering the use of another anti-virus program such as AVG or Avast to run alongside Spybot.
iii) Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (www.malwarebytes.org) comes in two forms: a paid and a free version. The free version, although functional, must be run manually whereas the paid version can be set up to run scheduled scans as well as provide real-time protection. It is intended to detect spyware or malware that other programs miss, so regardless of whether your other utilities show up clean, consider running this tool too as you have more chance of finding a deeply-hidden bit of spyware the more tools you use.
Using these tools alongside your anti-virus scans on a regular basis will help keep you clear from invasive programs; it is insufficient nowadays just to rely on your current anti-virus solution. Above all, be sure to actually run these scans frequently; it is even more important to do so if your computer is shared with other members of your family.
Despite all of this however, it may be that it proves impossible to remove some particularly nasty forms of spyware. Some programs are detected, removed, then recreate themselves on the next reboot and finding out why can be next-to-impossible. If all else fails, the only solution is a complete rebuild of your computer. For this reason, it is essential to take regular backups of your important data (preferably to external hard drives or recordable DVD) so that if the worst happens, you can rebuild it from scratch and restore your data afterwards. A new or newly-built machine should have such tools set up as soon as possible, before anything has a chance to establish itself.
Ronnie Soo is an M3 Master Consultant with Wealth Masters International and director of 5th Wise Monkey Ltd.
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