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Spyware is a generic term for a specific type of software that can either display unwanted advertisements or track your personal information, all without your consent. One of the more serious dangers of spyware is that it can collect information about you, including your web surfing habits and even worse, your usernames and passwords. Obviously, spyware is not good for your PC or yourself, but there are ways that you can protect yourself from it.
Some Common Spyware Symptoms
If you notice your PC running slower than usual or exhibiting any other unusual behavior, it may be a sign of spyware. Spyware has been known to bounce back e-mails or send emails without your knowledge. It can also appear to “haunt” your PC, opening your CD drives or placing unknown icons on your desktop.
1. Avoid Phishing Scams
“Phishing” is the attempt to collect sensitive data (usernames, passwords, secure financial information) while appearing to be a reliable and legitimate entity. Phishing scams often find their way to your Inbox in the form of e-mails (or as an instant message) from auction sites or social networking sites, etc. The e-mails link to sites that look almost identical to the legitimate site.
Don’t use links in e-mails and instant messages to get to web sites
Don’t supply your secure financial information or fill out forms via e-mail
Ensure that your browser and security programs are up to date
For more information on protecting yourself from phishing scams, visit the APWG Consumer Advice web site. There you can find more tips as well as a guide on how to report phishing schemes.
You can also visit our extensive article on identifying and preventing email-based scams: prevent phishing scams
2. Don’t Download Email Attachments from Unknown Sources
The Email Attachment Rule of Thumb
Another good rule of thumb is to never download an e-mail attachment without knowing who the e-mail is from. In fact, we would go as far to suggest not opening every single attachment from trusted sources too. Aunt Polly may just want to show everyone pictures from her trip to Las Vegas, but e-mail attachments are one of the easiest ways to contract PC viruses and, sadly, many complicated malware campaigns have found ways to duplicate emails in your contact list. That's right. Aunt Polly could be from across the world trying to install a worm on your computer.
So what do you do? You can't treat every email as suspect, can you?
Sure you can, but you don't have to be paranoid. The easiest thing to do is to simply read the mail. Presumably, you know your contacts to some degree and can be able to tell if something in the body of the email sounds fishy. If you're not sure, you can always call that person and ask!
Email continues to get safer and safer. Most email providers employ complex filters that do their best to ensure reliable transmission. But scammers are always on the lookout for ways to use your own sense of ease against you. After all, they don't succeed if it's obviously a trap. Just taking the time to know your contacts, identify dubious content, and remember the sites and businesses for which you've asked to be on the mailing list will go a long way in keeping your PC free of harmful agents.
3. Clear Your Browsing History
Your browsing history saves a variety of information on your PC, including the history of web sites visited, cookies, a cache of pictures of previously visited web sites, and form data. By regularly clearing your browsing history, you can protect your browsing habits and secure information from being hijacked by spyware.
To delete your browsing history, go to “Tools” and then either “Options” or “Delete Browsing History” (and then possibly “Privacy” depending on your browser).
Make sure to delete “Cookies,” delete “History,” clear “Cache,” and clear “Forms.”
The Delete Browsing History box as found in Internet Explorer.
4. Know What You Are About to Install
Installing on Purpose
If you download software off of the Internet, then there's an easy way to make sure those .exe (executable) files and .msi (microsoft installer) files are legit. While it would be expensive to have over 40 anti-virus scanners on hand, that's exactly what sites like www.VirusTotal.com do. They won't scan your computer (which would violate user agreements and take literally days), they will scan a single file for you. So you've just downloaded an .exe and you're not positive it's safe - just upload it to VirusTotal and see what the experts have to say about it.
Installing on Accident
If you are surfing along, minding your own business and a pop-up pops up, read it first before you click OK! These pop-up windows can be a gateway for spyware to be installed on your PC. By clicking OK to make the box go away, you could be giving the spyware permission to run rampant. Read the message first, and if it’s suspicious, close the pop-up with the X, don’t click OK or Yes or even NO.
These strategically placed popups are called Drive-By Downloads. They capitalize on a person's instinct to either click "ok" on an alert or to click "no" to close a box. The people that make these download popups will often design them so that clicking any button activates the download. If clicking the X doesn't work then you need to simply close down your whole browser. If you're using Chrome or Internet Explorer, you can often just close the TAB that you're working in. If you're using Firefox you may have to close down the whole browser. Doing this can be frustrating, but it's a lot better to loose your web-pages, which you can relocate to, than to contract an aggressive piece of adware or a rogue program.
Sometimes, the drive-by download jams the whole thing and you can't even close the browser. In this case, open op the Windows Task Manager and End the Application from there.
- Click CTRL + SHIFT + ESC
- Click on the Tab that says APPLICATIONS
- Locate your browser. It should say "Running" if the browser is open
- Select it and click END TASK.
Ending the Running Process may take a few seconds since you're basically overriding the normal procedure in your computer. Don't worry though. Doing this won't harm your PC. You'll be able to reload your browser once it closes and then navigate back to the pages you had to close.
KEEP IN MIND - some browsers ask if you want to restore the tabs you had when you ended the process. This may be tempting, but doing so will bring back the unwanted download window, making the trouble come right back. The best thing to do is cut your losses and remember to not go back to that site.
5. Keep Your Virus Protection and Security Scanners Updated
The easiest thing to do and arguably the most important: Windows recommends that PCs use both a virus protection program and a security scanner. By routinely checking for updates in both, you’ll stay ahead of the spyware and virus game and keep your PC safe. When you check for updates, we recommend that you go directly to the web site of your particular virus protection or security scanner.
These five simple steps are a good start to keep your PC protected from spyware!