How To Avoid Spyware

Although it sounds like it might be straight out of a James Bond movie, the term “spyware” refers to something far less exotic. In its broadest sense, spyware describes any program that’s installed on a computer to track the activity of that computer’s owner or users. More narrowly, it refers to small applications or “cookies” that track web sites visited and actions taken when individuals surf the Internet.

Spyware is usually installed on a computer without the knowledge of the user, hence the spy reference. Although it may not involve clandestine organizations or foreign powers, spyware can still be very intrusive and annoying. It can allow unauthorized parties to gather detailed information about a user’s likes and preferences and it can have a severely negative impact on a computer’s overall performance.

How does spyware get onto a computer?

Spyware can come from multiple sources but perhaps the most common way is from clicking on pop-ups or other unfamiliar links. Plus, spyware attracts more spyware, so users with infected computers are often caught in a downward spiral of collecting more and more unwanted cookies and corrupt applications.

Another common source is downloadable software, which is frequently offered for free. Promotional e-mails may even claim that these downloads can scan or clean-up your computer, but instead, they have the opposite effect.

How do you know if you already have spyware?

Spyware can dramatically impact the performance of your computer, making it very slow to open and run normal applications. You might be subjected to endless pop-up windows or be redirected to unknown or unwanted web sites. New and unexpected icons can appear in toolbars or at the bottom of the screen. Random error messages may start to appear or regular applications may “freeze” or fail to respond.

How can you prevent spyware from installing on your computer?

To avoid becoming an unwitting host to spyware, you should follow these security guidelines:

  • Don’t click on pop-up windows or unknown links. Always use the “x” button in the top right-hand corner to close out an unwanted pop-up; clicking on a “close” button may activate the spyware.
  • Adjust your browser settings to limit pop-up windows and cookies. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari all have settings that will allow you to block pop-ups and restrict cookies. Only allow cookies from known and trusted web sites.
  • Be careful when downloading software. Do not download software unless you are sure it’s from a reliable source. Be particularly wary of offers of free software that will scan and clean-up your computer.
  • Run a full scan of your computer using anti-virus software. Make sure you install software that will identify and eliminate spyware and similar viruses. Make sure the anti-virus software is current and receiving automatic updates.

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