Knowledgebase: Internet
What is Spyware / Adware?
Posted by Dan Hoisington on 09 June 2009 03:36 PM

What is spyware?
According to the dictionary, spyware is "any software that covertly gathers information about a user while he/she navigates the Internet and transmits the information to an individual or company that uses it for marketing or other purposes". The information gathered by a piece of spyware can include which web sites you visit, how long you spend viewing each page, information you type into web forms, and potentially information about all activities you conduct using your computer.

What is adware?
A specialized tech dictionary defines adware as "any software application in which advertising banners are displayed while the program is running". The advertising banners might be incorporated into your web browser or be displayed as pop-up windows. Most adware includes a component that tracks which ads you view or click on, and how long you view them.

Why are spyware and adware undesirable?

  • Spyware and adware programs usually run in the background, using some of your computer's processing power. This can result in very slow performance.
  • Pop-up windows and other advertising can be extremely distracting, particularly if they occur with enough frequency that you are constantly interrupting your work to close the ad windows.
  • You lose some measure of privacy as a spyware or adware program tracks how you use the Internet and your computer. In addition, you may be losing control over your personal information if a spyware program records keystrokes or information entered in Web forms, leading to a greater risk for identity theft.

How can spyware and adware get on my computer?

  • A program you voluntarily download may come bundled with a piece of adware or spyware.
  • A program you voluntarily download may, at a later time, download and install a piece of adware or spyware.
  • Depending on your browser settings, viewing certain web sites or clicking on links in certain web sites can cause spyware or adware to be installed.

How do I prevent spyware/adware installations on my computer?

  • Carefully read the End User License Agreement (EULA) before downloading and installing any piece of software from the Internet. The EULA describes what terms and conditions you are agreeing to by installing the software.
  • Try to visit only web sites run by reputable companies. Internet gambling sites, sites containing adult content, and "freebie" sites are more likely than others to install adware or spyware on your computer.
  • Don't click on pop-up ads except to close them. Be careful -- some pop-up ads contain images that look like the button for closing a window. Take your time and make sure you click on the real one!
  • Install an anti-spyware program that has an "active blocking" component -- that is, a program that not only detects and removes spyware, but helps prevent the installation in the first place.

Where can I get an anti-spyware (or anti-adware) program?
Anti-spyware and anti-adware software -- similar to anti-virus software -- has been created to help consumers detect and remove spyware and adware on their computers. Some very good products are free for your personal use, and are linked from our download page. Caution: Do your research before downloading any anti-spyware program other than the ones we link to. Some programs that claim to get rid of spyware will actually install spyware.

How do I install an anti-spyware/adware product?
First, choose a product and download the installer to your desktop. Double-click on the installer to run it. Each program's installation process is different; follow the prompts on-screen to complete the installation. The first time you start the program, it may prompt you do set up some configuration options -- again, follow the prompts on screen to complete this process.

SpyBot Search & Destroy: Read sections 2 (Installation) and 3 (First Run) in the official SpyBot S&D tutorial for specific details.

How do I scan my computer for spyware/adware?
Update the detection rules in your anti-spyware/adware product and run a full scan of your computer. When the scan is complete, you will be presented with a list of programs or files that were found to be spyware/adware related.

SpyBot Search & Destroy: Read section 4 (Doing a Scan) in the official SpyBot S&D tutorial for specific details.

How do I remove spyware/adware from my computer?
The method of removal depends on which anti-spyware/adware program you are using. Usually, you can select items from the "detected" list generated by a scan, and click a button labeled "Fix" or "Remove". Consult the Help function of your program for additional details.

SpyBot Search & Destroy: Read sections 5 (Interpreting the Results), 6 (Decision on Exceptions), and 7 (Removing the threats found) in the official SpyBot S&D tutorial for specific details.
Last Modified: 2013/05/07

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