Getting Rid of Spyware

Most of us don't have to worry about encountering 007-style super-spies or shifty-eyed characters in trench coats, but we all need to know about their cyber-versions-spyware.
Spyware lurks around every corner of the Web, waiting for a chance to infect your computer. Knowing what to look out for is your best counterattack, and we'll show you how.
I've heard of spyware, but what is it?
Spyware is software that tricks users into installing it on their computers. Once it's there, it can secretly gather information about you and send it to an interested party, without your knowledge or consent. Screen savers, computer wallpaper, and those packages of little smiley icons are all key culprits that can contain spyware.
Different types of spyware do different things, but all of them involve deception and taking some amount of control over the computer.

What's the big deal?
Getting Rid of SpywareLots of people say, "OK, spyware sounds shifty, but it's really just an inconvenience, isn't it?" Unfortunately, it's much more than that. For one thing, spyware runs in the background, stealing performance from your computer. It's not uncommon to have dozens of pieces of spyware installed and not even know about it.
A slow computer is just the beginning. Left undetected, spyware can redirect your browser to places you don't want it to go—sites that are offensive or inappropriate to children or other users. And it can get worse. A lot of spyware is built to steal personal information, which can lead to identity theft. For example, imagine a scenario where spyware sends you to a fake banking site and steals your logon information.
Of course, there's no reason to be afraid of computers, but it's important to know what you're dealing with.
Keep the spies away. The bad news is that spyware is everywhere. The good news is that if you know what to look for, it's pretty easy to avoid it. Start by being suspicious—very suspicious—of everything you might want to install on your computer. Everything. Microsoft Windows* will tell you when it detects software that is trying to install, and will ask for your permission to continue. However, it can't tell if what you're about to install is a piece of spyware, so beware. Here are some examples of likely places you'll encounter spyware:
Freebie Potentially                             Spyware?
Downloadable free games                              x
"Congratulations! You Win!" banner                x
Screen-saver download                                 x
Smiley icons                                                 x
Downloadable animated cursors                     x
Games received in e-mail                              x
The bottom line? Don't download software that you don't really need, like toolbars, smiley icons, screen savers, wallpaper, and those little weather widgets that live down by the clock. If you like to play online games, use the Web version instead of downloading the "full" version. If you have downloaded these types of things in the past, spyware might already be living on your computer.
Help! My computer is already affected!
More good news. Many excellent tools are available that can help you remove spyware. Of course, if you've already read this far, you can guess that there's bad news, too. One of the most common places for spyware to hide is in fake products that promise to be spyware removers. Before you wail in desperation about how untrustworthy the world has become, take heart.
Many commercial anti-virus and Internet security products now include spyware scanning and removal, so first check the documentation for the protection software you already have installed (and if you don't have any, drop everything now and purchase a good anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spyware suite). There are also many honest-to-goodness free tools that do work. For a wealth of spyware-removal software, visit the spyware removers page.

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