How big is the problem?
Spyware and other forms of malicious software are regularly infecting computers across the world. Most computers have no, or little, protection from software with the intent to harm. Most frightening is the frequency at which your computer is being infected without your knowledge.
To get some insight into the size of the problem, an Infosec Writers web site article indicates, "According to a 2004 survey by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance, 91 percent of users questioned were familiar with the term spyware. Only 53 percent believed their computers were infected, but a scan found that 80 percent of their PCs had some type of spyware installed on them." It also goes on to say, "...The average number of spyware components per computer was 93 with one computer having well over a thousand." And the problem is still growing each year!
What is Spyware?
The term 'spyware' is broadly defined as any program that runs on your computer without your knowledge or permission and operates in stealth mode while it collects and sends information about what the computer user is doing on their computer. Spyware is generally not designed to harm your computer but is a means for hackers and crackers to spy on what you are doing on your computer. Wikipedia offers a great definition and some useful resources about spyware.
Some spyware such as tracking cookies, are considered harmless, as they don't do much other than allow web site owners to track how often a specific user has visited their web site. While cookies may infringe on your privacy, they don't really harm anything on your computer.
Others, however, can be very hazardous. The worst kind of spyware is known as a "key logger" that will log every keystroke you make on your computer. These can be used to capture and send your credit card details every time you use your credit card to make a purchase online.
How do I know if I have Spyware on my Computer?
Here is a short list of some of the symptoms your computer may exhibit if it is infected with spyware:
- Your computer has become slow and sluggish
- It takes a very long time to start up your computer
- Your computer crashes frequently
- You get unexpected behavior such as pop-up ads appearing
So what can I do about it?
There are several anti-spyware programs that will detect and remove spyware. Here is a list of some of the most popular anti-spyware tools you can try out:
1. Ad-Aware(R) Professional from LavaSoft (there is also a free personal version);
2. Spybot Search and Destroy from Safer Network Limited which is a free product;
3. Xoftspy form Pareto Logic which you can use for a free scan;
4. Spyware Guard from Javacool Software that is a free program;
5. Anti-Spyware from McAfee(R) which has many different commercial products.
I suggest you try out a few of these tools at first to do a good sweep of your computer for spyware. No single tool will detect and remove all spyware.
One thing is for certain; you need to take the spyware problem seriously. For some reason, too many people out think that their computer will not be infected with spyware. Believe me, it is only a matter of time before your computer becomes infected with malicious software.
And when all else fails?
Finally, and only as a last resort, if your computer has been infected with spyware you can't remove, the only solution you have left is to back up your data and perform a complete reinstallation of the operating system.
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