What's happening to my PC?
This is often the first question users ask when they're dealing with Spyware. Without knowing what Spyware is, it's difficult to understand why your Web browser has become virtually useless, why strange messages and ads keep popping up, why your PC is running so slowly, or how you can fix the problem. Describe the symptoms to any computer professional and you'll likely hear about something called Spyware.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is broadly defined as software that takes advantage of a user's computer to benefit a third party. The name Spyware comes from the surveillance characteristics of many Spyware programs, which often record information about a user's computer and transmit it to a remote server or intruder. Spyware can cause computer slowdown, crashes, virus and worm infection, and even hard drive erasure, as well as collecting sensitive information like passwords, logins and banking/credit card details.
What is Adware, Malware, Trackware, etc.?
Some consider Adware to be distinct from Spyware, but more and more it is considered a sub-category of Spyware. Adware is "advertising software," any software that displays ads or facilitates the display of ads on a user's computer. Often Adware is difficult to remove and may continue to display ads even after it has been uninstalled. Often free downloadable applications like Kazaa, Grokster, and a number of media players are ad-supported, earning revenue by installing Adware on a user's computer. Malware is any program that is used with the express intent of damaging a PC or network and has no measurable benefits. Trackware, including cookies and data miners, tracks a user's computer usage and/or Web-searching habits. New "-ware" words are occasionally invented to describe sub-categories of Spyware.
How is Spyware different from a virus?
Unlike Spyware, viruses self-replicate and attempt to infect as many computers as possible. Viruses attempt to spread from one computer to another, while Spyware usually spreads over the Internet and not directly between home computers. Viruses usually carry a "payload," some kind of function or assault meant to damage a computer, open it to remote intrusion, or otherwise compromise a computer system. Spyware can do just as much damage, but more frequently causes slowdown, pop-up ads, browser instability, and other annoyances. Spyware programs range from innocuous data collectors to dangerous Remote Administration Tools (RATs). Viruses are more consistently and obviously harmful, but do not present the same surveillance, advertising and data mining threats.
How do I find out if my computer has Spyware?
Tell-tale signs of Spyware presence are computer slowdown, pop-up ads, erratic mouse behaviour, and problems with a Web browser-like browser instability, strange homepages and confusing search results. To determine if your computer is infected with Spyware, you will need to download a Spyware detection tool. Most respected anti-spyware companies offer a free scan or free trial version of their software. ParetoLogic is pleased to offer a free scan to anyone concerned that their computer is infected with spyware. Should the scan result in the detection of spyware, we recommend that you employ the full version of our software to remove the spyware and secure your computer.
Why is my Web browser acting up?
Web browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox are often targeted by Spyware. Internet Explorer in particular facilitates the installation of Spyware by using something called Browser Helper Objects (BHOs). BHOs are software add-ins that load with Internet Explorer and are meant to augment your browser. Unfortunately, plenty of Adware and Spyware installs itself as a BHO and can negatively affect your browser performance.
If your homepage keeps changing, you're being redirected to strange websites, or your Web searches are turning up confusing results, you might have a Browser Hijacker. Hijackers change browser settings without the user's permission, and often make it difficult to reverse the changes. Browser Hijackers are among the most common Spyware threats because they increase traffic to certain websites and can thus generate revenue for online businesses.
Why do ads keep popping up on my desktop?
Unfortunately, pop-up and pop-under advertisements have become a common marketing strategy on the Web and should be expected to some degree when surfing the Internet. But if ads are popping up even when you're not using a Web browser, or if they're opening faster than you can close them, you've likely got Adware on your PC. Adware is often installed alongside free downloadable applications-peer-to-peer file-sharing clients like Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus are common culprits. Some software admits to being "ad-supported," and it is therefore the user's choice to install such software. But some programs secretly install Adware and make it difficult to remove: this is an unethical practice. Most Adware can be detected and removed by reputable anti-spyware tools.
I've used a reputable anti-spyware tool, but I'm still having problems!
We'll forgive the lack of an actual question and address this common complaint. Sometimes a single scan with a good anti-spyware tool won't be enough to rid your computer of unwanted software. It may require a few scans, or even a second program to completely remove all Spyware and Adware. All anti-spyware programs have a built-in list of threats that they can recognize and attack, but every program has a slightly different list, and no one anti-spyware tool can address every threat. For that reason, it may require two distinct anti-spyware tools to completely clean a PC heavily infested with unwanted software. For most of us, though, a single tool will usually do the job. (It's important to note that most anti-spyware tools are frequently updated to detect new threats.)
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