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Spy ware information
Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware
Because of its popularity, the internet has become an ideal
target for advertising. As a result, spyware, or adware, has
become increasingly prevalent. When troubleshooting problems
with your computer, you may discover that the source of the
problem is spyware software that has been installed on their
machine without their knowledge.
What is spyware?
Despite its name, the term "spyware"
doesn't refer to something used by undercover operatives, but rather
by the advertising industry. In fact, spyware is also known as "adware."
It refers to a category of software that, when installed on your
computer, may send you pop-up ads, redirect your browser to certain
web sites, or monitor the web sites that you visit. Some extreme,
invasive versions of spyware may track exactly what keys you type.
Because of the extra processing, spyware
may cause your computer to become slow or sluggish. There are also
- What information is being gathered?
- Who is receiving it?
- How is it being used?
How do you know if there is spyware on
The following symptoms may indicate that spyware is
installed on your computer:
- you are subject to endless pop-up windows
- you are redirected to web sites other than the one you typed
into your browser
- new, unexpected toolbars appear in your web browser
- new, unexpected icons appear in the task tray at the bottom of
- your browser's home page suddenly changed
- the search engine your browser opens when you click "search"
has been changed
- certain keys fail to work in your browser (e.g., the tab key
doesn't work when you are moving to the next field within a form)
- random Windows error messages begin to appear
- your computer suddenly seems very slow when opening programs
or processing tasks (saving files, etc.)
How can you prevent spyware from
installing on your computer?
To avoid unintentionally installing it yourself, follow these
good security practices:
- Don't click on links within pop-up windows - Because
pop-up windows are often a product of spyware, clicking on the
window may install spyware software on your computer. To close the
pop-up window, click on the "X" icon in the titlebar instead of a
"close" link within the window.
- Choose "no" when asked unexpected questions - Be wary
of unexpected dialog boxes asking whether you want to run a
particular program or perform another type of task. Always select
"no" or "cancel," or close the dialog box by clicking the "X" icon
in the titlebar.
- Be wary of free downloadable software - There are many
sites that offer customized toolbars or other features that appeal
to users. Don't download programs from sites you don't trust, and
realize that you may be exposing your computer to spyware by
downloading some of these programs.
- Don't follow email links claiming to offer anti-spyware
software - Like email viruses, the links may serve the
opposite purpose and actually install the spyware it claims to be
As an additional good security practice, especially if you are
concerned that you might have spyware on your machine and want to
minimize the impact, consider taking the following action:
||Adjust your browser preferences
to limit pop-up windows and cookies - Pop-up windows are
often generated by some kind of scripting or active content.
Adjusting the settings within your browser to reduce or prevent
scripting or active content may reduce the number of pop-up
windows that appear. Some browsers offer a specific option to
block or limit pop-up windows. Certain types of cookies are
sometimes considered spyware because they reveal what web pages
you have visited. You can adjust your privacy settings to only
allow cookies for the web site you are visiting (see
Safely: Understanding Active Content and Cookies for more
How do you remove spyware?
- Run a full scan on your computer with your anti-virus
software - Some anti-virus software will find and remove
spyware, but it may not find the spyware when it is monitoring
your computer in real time. Set your anti-virus software to prompt
you to run a full scan periodically (see
Understanding Anti-Virus Software for more information).
- Run a legitimate product specifically designed to remove
spyware - Many vendors offer products that will scan your
computer for spyware and remove any spyware software. Popular
products include LavaSoft's Adaware, Webroot's SpySweeper,
PestPatrol, and Spybot Search and Destroy.
Authors: Mindi McDowell, Matt Lytle
Copyright 2004 Carnegie Mellon University.