Spyware & Malware explained
If spyware and malware are new to you, or you aren’t sure how to deal with them,
- Read through the brief explanations here.
- Follow the instructions for downloading the programs recommended.
- Install and run each program on your computer.
If you already know what these are, skip to “Malware Removal/Prevention Tools.”
Spyware and other malicious programs fall under the term malware. They’re not quite viruses, but they are a nuisance at the least and can severely affect your system performance. Often, they invade your privacy by reporting your online activities to a website owner who then directs advertising to your PC in the form of popups and email. Some actually record your keystrokes to capture your passwords and logins to secure websites where you conduct online purchases or pay your bills. Others will add so many programs that run in the background (you won’t know they’re running but they’re using up your system resources) and report on your computing activities that your computer will run more and more slowly—until you have to reboot continuously. So you must take malware as seriously as viruses.
How does malware get onto your computer? You often invite it in! When you download that free screensaver or other program or you engage in filesharing activities, you usually have to sign an End User License Agreement (EULA). Most people click on the “accept” button without reading the EULA. EULAs are typically extremely long, filled with legal language that people don’t want to read. But they often tell you that by accepting this free program, you agree to let them install other programs on your computer or share information about you with others. When you “accept” the free program, you’ve accepted the conditions of using it, which includes permitting them to install this “malware” on your computer. If you uninstall the malware, the free program may no longer work. So, please, be careful when installing free programs or deals that are “too good to be true.”
Here are some of the different forms of malware and what they do to your computer.
adware: sends reports of your online activities to a website owner who then directs advertising to your PC;
keylogger: records actual keystrokes, capturing details such as secure website logins and passwords, then sends them to a website owner who uses your online identity for purchases and other transactions;
hijacker: redirects your home page to somewhere else; sometimes to a site that contains viruses or trojans that infect your computer; other times to a site that racks up long distance phone charges for dialup customers (see dialer below); and sometimes to pornographic web sites;
dialer: redirects your phone call (dialup customers) to a long distance (& incredibly expensive) site that has been set up specifically for this purpose; the long distance charges get paid to the site owner; they’re usually overseas and thus not under the control of US laws;
cookies: small files placed on your computer when you visit a website so the website will remember you the next time you visit. Unless you don’t mind re-entering all your data every time you pay a bill or make a purchase from your favorite online site, you need cookies. But you don’t need all the cookies that end up on your computer, so check carefully when running malware scans for which cookies to keep and which ones to delete.
Some malware programs are actually a combination of categories. You can see how important it is to keep malware off your computer. And while there may be only a half dozen or so categories of malware, there are thousands of malware programs out there, all waiting for a chance to invade your computer. In fact, no one vendor can keep up with all the malware, so you will need at least two, and I recommend three, malware detection/prevention programs. I’m using the following programs in various combinations on about 25 computers and have very few problems with malware because of this combination approach. On many sites, malware detection/prevention programs are called anti-spyware, so keep that in mind when you search for solutions.
These first 3 are available from CNet’s download site (Download.com). Type the program name into the search box at the site and click on GO. Follow all download and installation instructions. Remember, all anti-spyware and antivirus tools must be updated at least weekly!
Malware Removal/Prevention Tools
Adaware from LavaSoft: A decent spyware detection and removal tool. Free for home users. Used in combination with 1 or 2 other anti-spyware tools, you’ll have piece of mind and if you get infected, it does a good job or finding and removing spyware.
Spybot Search & Destroy from PepiMK: This is my favorite program. Again, free for home users, but they do accept donations which helps the programmer keep up with definitions and program improvements. This program has an “immunize” button which, if used, prevents infections from coming back onto your computer.
Microsoft Defender (in Beta 2): While this product is still in beta (testing) phase, it has proven itself a good tool for finding and eliminating spyware from computers. If you use it, be sure to check the “reporting” feature. Every spyware find/removal is then reported back to a spyware database so new breakouts are reported and the definitions get updated more quickly . Get it directly from Microsoft now! Please note that this download requires you to be running a “genuine” Microsoft operating system; the program will not download until your OS is validated as a genuine (not pirated) program.
We’ll adding more info on this topic as we learn of other products, but a good place to start for products to eliminate malware from your computer—and to prevent it from getting back onto your computer—is CNET’s download site, Download.com. Enter spyware, malware, and/or spybot in the search bar. You’ll get a number of responses you can check into.
You can also “google” the terms. To “google” a term, you can enter the search term in your web browser’s search box or go to http://www.google.com and enter the term there. You’ll get many responses and should choose the response that most closely matches what you are looking for. What you are looking for is a web site that offers the download, as opposed to web sites that just refer to the program (such as online discussion groups, etc.).