If you notice that you are getting annoying pop-up ads, your computer is running at a much slower pace than it normally does, or there are changes in the general user experience when interacting with your computer, chances are, you have spyware, adware, and/or malware installed. They are unwanted, yet great examples of disruptive innovation.
Spyware is a kind of program or software that is installed in your hard drive without your consent. It culls data from your browser cache or even your hard drive and transmits it to an unauthorized recipient. This is exceedingly dangerous because it could give other people access to highly confidential information like your bank details or family information. It also makes you more prone to identity theft.
There are plenty of options and information available, both paid and free, to help you eliminate spyware. Some of the more popular anti-spyware methods include third-party programs like Norton, AVG, SpyBot Search and Destroy, and so on. Some of these, like Norton, cost money yearly to stay updated with the latest virus definition files and others, like the very capable AVG, are free.
So, here are a few quick steps to begin the process of cleaning up your system.
Delete all cookies and clean out your cache
Your browser tends to store sensitive information about you, including personal data and passwords, that can make you vulnerable to hackers. You can empty out your cookies and cache folder to avoid hackers from stealing your info.
IE8 users can switch to “Protected Mode” under the “Safety Tab” in your browser menu. Then go to Tools> Internet Options> General> Browsing History> Settings. This should open the Temporary Internet Files and History Settings dialogue box. Click “View Files” and delete the contents. Close the window and return to the dialogue box and indicate the number of pages you intend to keep in your History Folder under History. Click OK.
For Firefox 3.6.3 users, select Tools> Options> Network and click on the “Clear Now” button under “Offline Storage”. Click OK.
Anti-Virus & Anti Spyware Software
If you have an anti-virus program with spyware detection, run a thorough scan of all your drives. Delete or quarantine all discovered adware and spyware files. Some of the more reliable anti spyware programs include AVG, Norton, Ad-Aware, Microsoft Windows Defender and Spybot Search & Destroy. I’d say 99% of the time these programs will find and get rid of malicious software that has gotten into your system. And you should, if possible, keep an anti virus program installed on your computer at all times. But, there are instances where more advanced virus programs or malware can evade detection, such as with various rootkit attacks. These are rarer for sure.
If the spyware is too advanced for you to remove yourself, or if you are also having problems with adware or other malware like viruses on your computer, you may need to install an advanced anti-spyware program or even re-install your operating system and be more careful next time.