Search and Destroy Spyware

What is Spyware?

The term spyware is used quite broadly, but typically references malicious software that is downloaded unintentionally. Due to the increased awareness about malicious software on the internet, makers of spyware have found more deceptive methods of gaining control over computers. Spyware is a common and continuous threat to computer users, especially in an online environment.

Computer users that download spyware are tricked when they download seemingly benign software on the internet. Malicious software can be advertised as games, software to enhance productivity or applications. Spyware programs sneak on to your PC when you download files or install freeware or shareware software programs. Ironically, spyware is often advertised as free software for virus removal or other security measures. A safe download may be combined with spyware, and the additional software may be required to complete installation or marketed as optional. However, despite the user deselecting any optional software, they are installed anyway.

Spyware on a computer can be costly. One instance of spyware on a computer rarely causes obvious performance issues, although it is still harmful. When a computer shows a dramatic decrease in performance, there are usually many spyware programs. The aim of spyware is to steal personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers and banking information. Information is stolen by monitoring a user’s keystrokes, recording internet activity or rerouting users to similar versions of popular websites. Users may be rerouted to websites that look similar to banking or social networking sites, but do not notice subtle discrepancies until after they have given their login information.

Eliminating spyware can be done by downloading and running spyware-killing software — many are free programs that are very effective at eliminating spyware.  After you have eliminated your spyware, come up with a regular strategy to prevent it and improve your computer’s privacy .

Eliminate your Spyware

Spybot – Search & Destroy has a long-standing history of providing users with computer protection. The program provides various features that allow removal of suspicious programs and offers protection against invisible internet threats. In addition to protecting sensitive information, Spybot can block the prying eyes of adware. Other features include destroying files so they cannot be recovered at a later time and Spybot’s appearance can be changed.

Although there are always threats against computers, having access to good protection against spyware and other malicious software programs can help decrease the risk. Users should be reminded to only acquire free spyware programs from reputable download sites.  If you used any Peer to Peer file sharing software such as KaZaA, you probably have literally hundreds of spyware programs installed on your machine.

Another great spyware-killing software that we recommend is: Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition from Lavasoft (download )  It is a free program – download the application and the latest updates, then scan your system.  With the ability to scan your RAM, Registry, hard drives, and external storage devices for known data-mining, advertising, and tracking components, Ad-Aware software can clean your system easily, allowing you to maintain a higher degree of privacy while you surf the Web.

Ad-Aware is a free spyware removal program that includes an improved threat detection, enhanced rootkit removal system, faster updates, Lavasoft ThreatWork to submit suspicious files for analysis, and is now compatible with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista.

“A typical unprotected PC will come under attack
within 20 minutes of being connected to the Internet.”

Spyware is software that monitors or controls the use of your computer. It could send pop-up ads, redirect browsers to certain Web sites, or even record one’s keystrokes. A pop-up ad could even try to trick someone into typing in bank account information, leading to identity theft.  Spyware is Internet jargon for Advertising Supported software (Adware).  Spyware is a subset of the larger group of software called Malware.  Malware is software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the computer owner’s consent or knowledge. It is a blend of the words “malicious” and “software”. The term is a general one used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of harmful, intrusive, compromising, or interfering software or program code. Why is it called “Spyware”?While this may be a great concept, the downside is that the advertising companies also install additional tracking software on your system, which is continuously “calling home”, using your Internet connection and reports statistical data to the “mothership”. While according to the privacy policies of the companies, there will be no sensitive or identifying data collected from your system and you shall remain anonymous, it still remains the fact, that you have a “live” server sitting on your PC that is sending information about you and your surfing habits to a remote location…..   

More info on Spyware and Adware

Pop-Ups and Browser Hijacks

A browser hijack is a type of malware or spyware that changes your current home page in your Internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, with its own error, search or other standard web page. The primary purpose of a browser hijack is to force hits and increase the traffic on that particular site. Many sites make money based on how many hits they receive, primarily from advertisers. With a site that receives more traffic, the cost of advertising goes up and a webmaster profits.

The primary symptom that displays when a browser is hijacked is the home page changing to an unwanted or unknown site. You may also notice that additional toolbars have been installed in the browser with buttons that direct you to other websites or encourage you to use their customized search engine. The toolbars are typically very pronounced and stick out. Another sign that your browser may have been hijacked is if your default search engine or security settings have changed. You may notice a flood of obscene pop-up windows assaulting you after a mistyped URL, or malicious code taking over your browser completely, or any number of other malfunctions within your internet browser.  Chances are your browser has been hijacked!

Generally your home page will be changed and new favorites will be added that point to sites of dubious content. In most cases, the hijacker will have made registry changes to your system, causing the home page to revert back to the unwanted destination even if you attempt to change it manually.  Now you must figure out a way to eliminate the hijack and of course, to prevent any future hijackings.

Now that you know what a browser hijack is and what it does, you’re probably wondering how it got there in the first place. Many software companies include these additional programs and hijacks with their downloads. While you may think that you’re only downloading a useful program, the truth is that many times the terms and conditions that you consent to also have information regarding the add-on or bundled software. To avoid becoming a victim of browser hijacking, many times you can uncheck the box that authorizes permission to install third-party software on your machine.

It can also get on your computer by clicking on a link or opening an email attachment that you’re unsure of. It does not require a large file to write a script that is able to modify your computer’s security and browser settings. Even if you go into your browser’s settings and change the security and home page back to what they originally were you may discover that the hijack is still lurking deep down in the computer and just replaces itself the next time you open the browser. Ultimately you will need to remove the hijack using a program designed specifically to get rid of the troublesome hijack such as anti-malware, anti-virus or an anti-spyware program.

You can eliminate a Browser Hijack, but it is time consuming.  The best thing to do is begin with the Quick Fix steps above, including an immediate virus scan and spyware scan.  Next, remove questionable programs that you did not install and suspect to be malware – do this via CCleaner or the Windows Add and Remove Programs feature.  The problem is that most Browser Hijacks cannot simply be removed by this method and that piece of malware software you tried to uninstall will just re-install itself.

Install and run Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware scan.  Then restart your PC in “safe mode” and run an antivirus scan.  Use Hijack-This to check your registry for malware.  In a worst case scenario, visit the following websites for step-by-step help by computer professionals on how to remove your browser hijack and fix your computer: CastleCops or BleepingComputer .

Attempt to remove most of the malware on your computer using free anti-virus/anti-trojan products . We have provided a list of our recommended online and free/trial software that we recommend you to scan your computer with as part of this step.  Lastly, you may need to download and install Hijack-This – a popular free diagnostic program.

Once you have eliminated the Spyware on your PC, you must prevent any future Spyware from recurring.  Stop any future invasions with a potent Firewall and with judicious web-surfing habits.  See step #4 for advice and tips on Firewalls

Windows Vista vs. Spyware

All versions of Vista come installed with a program called Windows Defender (previously known as Microsoft Antispyware).  This handy utility works with Internet Explorer and Windows Mail to protect your computer from spyware.  Windows Defender has become an integral part of the Windows Vista Operating System and make it very convenient for users to eliminate and prevent spyware without having to install third-party software.  The Windows Defender enables you to actively scan your computer for all types of spyware that might have infected your computer –especially if you use Internet Explorer to subscribe to online services or make online purchases.  This software is very capable and has received favorable reviews since Vista was launched.

To open the Windows Defender window, click on Start –> Control Panel –> Security –> Windows Defender.

After the Windows Defender window is open, you can click the Scan button to have Vista perform a quick scan of your computer and report any spyware anomalies.

Windows (Free) Tool to Fight Malware

Microsoft Security Essentials Download

Microsoft’s Security Essentials software protects against viruses, Trojans, worms, and spyware. The company has also created an anti-virus team who publishes their findings on the Microsoft Malware Protection Center website.  In addition to virus scanning, Security Essentials offers integration with Windows Firewall as well as rootkit protection.

Microsoft Security Essentials offers great protection while being a very lightweight program. Unlike other bloated commercial packages, it does not slow your system down. It runs nicely in the background and only makes itself known when it has discovered an infection. The package is compact and efficient.

In use it is simplicity itself. One does not need to touch it but rather allow it to run. If the user is suspicious about certain files, they can first be viewed in Window Explorer. The suspected file can then be chosen. Now initiate a right clock while pointing to the file. Security Essentials has added a “Scan with Microsoft Security Essentials” item to the context menu. Simply click on it to manually scan the selected file.

This program requires no registration, no trials, or renewals and is available absolutely free of charge by download directly from Microsoft at:

Protect your most valuable files by backing them up.  Want more details on how to shop for a Backup Hard Drive and how to decide on a backup plan? Check out ourBackup Hard Drive Guide for information and details on how to purchase the best hard drive.

>>Continue to our next step: Anti-Virus Scan

Steps to Clean Up Your PC

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