What is spyware? The term spyware generally refers to any program that collects and transmits information about a users internet browsing or other computer habits. Originally, spyware was relatively benign. Some of the original tracking cookies allowed websites like Yahoo to customize page ads based on your search terms or by tracking which ads you actually clicked on. Over time, spyware became more malicious. Some spyware now reports back to a central server every link you click and also any information you key into web forms - including address, phone number and credit card information. Additionally, if enough spyware gets on your machine, you may have trouble accessing the internet because the different spyware agents fight for control of your connection. We have never had a computer brought to the helpdesk for service that did not have at least a few pieces of spyware. Many have thousands of pieces of spyware when they are brought to us. Fortunately, there are products available, many of which are free, which will help control spyware on your machine.
Unlike anti-virus software, it is recommended you use more than one anti-spyware program to keep your computer clean. We recommend the following free programs:
One of the original free programs and still a very good choice. This program does require interaction from you to keep your machine free from spyware. You should update and run the program at least weekly. Download is here.
Another of our favorites. This program also requires interaction with you to clean the machine, but the problems it generally finds is well worth the effort. Download here.
Our favorite tool at the helpdesk. The free version is adequate for most people. Download here.
We generally use a combination of these programs at the helpdesk to diagnose and remove spyware. Each one is effective in discovering spyware the others do not. There are many other programs which remove spyware, but we have found these to be the most effective free options.
Avoiding spyware takes some discipline and practice. When downloading and installing programs (especially free programs) you must read each of the installation screens carefully. Many times, spyware-laden programs are installed with other programs we download. For example, for several years, Weatherbug (spyware!) was installed with AOL Instant Messenger if you did not change the default installation settings. You must carefully read each of the screens when installing new software. Currently, Instant Messenger will add the AOL toolbar and change your homepage to AOL unless you take the time to read each installation screen and change the default settings.
Additionally, you should only download programs from reputable sites. I generally use Google to try to find out if a program is spyware BEFORE I install it. For Example: If you Google the phrase smiley central spyware you will notice that many of the hits indicate that the program is spyware or installs spyware components.
If you have never used an anti-spyware program before, don't be alarmed when you run your first scan. Whichever anti-spyware program you use will probably find many pieces of spyware. We have had machines brought to us at the helpdesk with thousands of pieces of spyware.
Mozilla Firefox - An alternative to Internet Explorer. Highly recommended. Can be customized easily using plug-ins. Allows customization of many features. Plug-ins include ad blockers and RSS readers. Two plug-ins we have recommend are Web of Trust (WOT) and Ad block Plus (ABP).
Snapfiles - A good freeware download site. All programs are tested and rated before being placed on the site.
McAfee SiteAdvisor - A great add-in for Internet Explorer and Firefox which lets you know if a site is reputable while you surf the internet. It also adds page safety ratings to searches in Google and Yahoo.
SpywareGuide - A comprehensive list of programs which install spyware. Programs include: Weatherbug, Hotbar, Smiley Source, and many others which might surprise you.
Computing Services Helpdesk | Britt Hall Basement
Phone: Local: 893-1208 | Campus - ext. 1208 | Toll-Free: 800-334-4111 ext. 1208