- Secure a University Computer
- Secure a Student Personal Computer
- Secure a Home Personal Computer
- Security Tools & Downloads
- Digital Copyright
- Safe Computing Topics
Spyware gathers personal information about a computer user, such as their web browsing habits, passwords, keystrokes, etc., and delivers it over the internet to interested third parties. By contrast, adware shows the user advertisements, often in pop-up windows, enticing the user to click on an ad. This generates revenue for a third party. Both spyware and adware are sometimes legitimate and sometimes illegitimate. Both can, in certain cases, install themselves onto your computer without your knowledge, and both are usually unwelcome. Finally, contrary to popular belief, both Windows and Macintosh systems can be infected by spyware!
In certain aggravated cases, the spyware will completely take over your web browser, forcing you to their web sites regardless of what you type in as a URL. These types of spyware are called browser hijackers. Other types of spyware install themselves so deeply into your machine that you can't remove them automatically. These require extra time and effort to remove.
The easiest way not to get spyware on your machine, is to use secure web browser settings. You might also consider a web browser other than Internet Explorer, when possible. Many important University web sites require that you use Internet Explorer, but for nonessential browsing, you might try one of several alternative web browsers (see above). Also, be very careful when installing "freeware" or P2P file sharing software on your machine. These so-called "free" programs often come with a host of spyware and adware that can consume your system resources and violate your privacy.
Installing XP Service Pack 2 (or IE 6 Service Pack 1) can take you a long way toward securing Internet Explorer. You may need to use IE for certain online applications, such as WebCT. If so, you should protect yourself by applying the latest Windows Updates, and by following all of our recommended security guidelines in the Secure a Personal Computer guide.
For nonessential web browsing--that is, whenever you're not required to do otherwise, you should consider using an alternate web browser. Many of the new browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, do not expose your computer to the sort of spyware attacks that are common in Internet Explorer. They also can come with innovative new features that you can't find in Internet Explorer.
We can't stress this enough. Even the best laid plans can fall apart. You should regularly run antispyware scans on your computer. Instructions for doing so can be found below, in Part Three.
AntiSpyware, Windows Updates, and Firewalls cannot protect you if you don't exercise discretion when installing new software onto your computer, or when clicking on links. Very often "freeware" or "shareware" titles come loaded up with spyware and adware (to cover the cost of development). In particular, P2P file sharing programs and instant messenger clients should be carefully scrutinized. Developing a healthy skepticism about "free" software can save you a lot of trouble later on.
Diagnosing Spyware infections is fairly simple. Most people's computers are infected with spyware. If you aren't conscious of your security settings and use Internet Explorer, and if you don't regularly scan for spyware, chances are very high that you're infected already. Here are some key indicators of a spyware or adware infection:
If you have trouble with pop-up advertisements, all the time, whether or not you're online, then your machine is likely infected with spyware and adware.
Decrease in computer performance (speed, battery life) over time is an indicator of spyware infection. Spyware uses up system resources, saps computing power, and drains batteries.
If your machine has a lot of runtime processes even when you're not running any programs, then you might have a spyware problem. In general, 20-35 runtime processes is normal for a Windows XP baseline. 35-50 processes merits some investigation. If your machine has more than 50 processes running, and you don't have any applications open, then it is almost certain that you've some kind of spyware or unwanted software running. Spyware programs are just like any other program--they consume system resources like processing power and memory, and thus can slow down your machine. Once you rid your computer of spyware, you'll often notice a tremendous system performance boost.
In order to see how many processes your Windows machine is running, bring up the Windows Task Manager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard. The number of runtime processes is listed in the bottom left corner.
Anti-spyware programs, such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, Microsoft Anti-spy, and Symantec Antispyware, are programs that scan your computer and remove spyware and adware. Network monitor programs, like Little Snitch for Mac OS 10 keep track of all your computer's network communications. These programs have become essential for detecting and removing spyware.
We have prepared installation and usage tutorials for these antispyware programs:
Please exercise caution when installing software claiming to remove spyware from your machine. There are many programs online that claim to remove spyware, but do the opposite. The three free programs listed here should suffice.
Spyware and adware that you agree to install, usually as part of a click-through license agreement to another piece of software, like a P2P file sharing program or an instant messenger client, usually will be ignored by your antispyware program. You'll need to uninstall these sorts of programs yourself, by removing them from the Add & Remove Programs control panel.
Some of these persistent titles include:
In some rare cases, you'll not be able to uninstall these programs without an internet connection. Usually, you can skip them, continue restoring your internet access, then complete their removal later.
We distribute a tool specifically designed to flush out and rebuild the TCP/IP stack in Windows XP, called WinsockXPFix. We highly recommend you download and run it, once you've scraped all of the spyware out of your machine.