Spyware: the Good, the Bad, and the Scary

Spyware is one of the most common problems computer users face. Sometimes it comes in the form of annoying pop-ups; sometimes it has more sinister intentions. Left unchecked, spyware, a.k.a. malware, can slow your computer, damage your files, and even steal your private and personal data.

The Bad News. Spyware is software that gets installed in a computer without the user's knowledge. It can find its way onto your system through a multitude of websites and downloaded programs that may be infected without the host even knowing. To make matters worse, some cyber-thieves promote "anti-spyware" downloads that in reality are spyware programs designed to get your information by first gaining your trust.

According to Microsoft, it usually goes something like this: You visit a website, open an email message, or download a picture and suddenly see the message WARNING! Your computer is infected with spyware! Somewhere in your normal online computing activities, spyware silently loads itself onto your computer and needs you to click on the bogus warning message to activate it. And once spyware is in your system, it can be disruptive and tedious to eliminate.

In addition, spyware often is patient and subtle. It can be sitting in your system for days of weeks and you might never know it's there. And further complicating matters is the advance of spyware applications on smartphones. A recent paper by researchers at the University of Indiana details a program (designed by the researchers themselves) that can make your smartphone transmit 3D maps of your location to a watcher and even broadcast sensitive information and data.

The Signs. Spyware might be subtle, but its symptoms are not. According to longtime computer system expert Peter Herme, a spyware infection is likely when you notice any or all of the following:

  1. Your computer suddenly becomes extremely slow
  2. There are unexplained changes in your computer, such as mysterious new toolbars you can’t delete or suspicious search results
  3. You get frequent errors and error messages
  4. Unsolicited advertisements, pop ups, and web browser toolbars suddenly show up
  5. Your home page is changed and your online searches are hijacked to display results from affiliate websites.

The Good News. Spyware infection is not a death sentence for your computer. Most spyware can be removed entirely by a good anti-malware program. And many top-notch anti-spyware and anti-virus programs are free to download, free to use, and are updated frequently.

The Solution. In most cases, getting rid of spyware takes little more than finding, downloading, and running a genuine (and efficient) spyware remover. According to WiseGeek.com, "when spyware software performs a spyware check, what it’s really doing is scanning your hard drive for files that it recognizes."

You can find several good, free programs by checking out various user and expert review websites. Run a full system scan, and then, suggests Peter Herme, run it again to make sure all traces of spyware have been detected and dealt with.

Of course, when disaster strikes and you have lost data due to spyware infection, it's best to call the experts at easySERVICE™ Data. We can locate and recover data lost through damage, disaster, or system attack and get you back to business.