In the event that you have adware or spyware installed on your computer, here is what you can expect to encounter (the warning signs) and what you can do to remedy the problem.

Adware

Since the purpose of adware is to display advertisements for a 3rd party (and make money) this sort of software is relatively easy to spot. Adware usually works by opening unwanted pop-up or pop-under ads.  Sometimes it can be programmed to alter search engine results, so when you do a search for “widgets” on your favorite search engine, the results you are shown are actually altered by the adware to show ads from paying advertisers instead of the REAL search results!

In general you can easily spot adware.   If you notice an obscene amount of pop-up ads on almost every page you visit, or if your search results always display the same websites regardless of the search you do, chances are you have adware on your computer.

Even if you don’t notice these symptoms, there is a good chance your computer is infected if any of the following is true:

  • You often download freeware/shareware programs from the internet
  • You visit websites with flash animations or play flash or Java games
  • You download any sort of interactive content or play games online

The best way to remedy the problem is to download an Adware remover.  This software can be free or come with a small price tag.  The difference is usually worth the couple of dollars to buy the licenced version (usually labeled “pro” or similar).  Most good Spyware / Adware removal software costs about $25 – $40 and does a pretty good job of removing the stuff from your machine.  Keep reading for more info or skip directly to the recommended products page.

Spyware

Spyware is way nastier than adware.  Spyware is used to steal personal information and spy on your Internet usage habits (hence the name spyware).  It can be very dangerous and leave you open for credit card and bank fraud or even identity theft.  It is a big problem which is unfortunately getting bigger.  Spyware programs are flooding the Internet at an incredible rate and there is little sign of relief.

Tell tale signs of a spyware infection include the following:

  • Lots of network traffic even when you are not downloading anything or surfing
  • Your computer is extremely slow and prone to crashing
  • Your computer takes forever to boot up and often has problems
  • You notice a ton of extra services running in the background

These are the easiest to spot, of course there are a lot of warning signs and things to look for but these are the most common signs.  Spyware is much, much worse than adware because it can actually do harm instead of just being annoying.   I highly recommend constant scanning for spyware and a good anti-spyware program goes a long way in protecting you. It’s very important to buy anti-spyware software because of the active filters they introduce into your system to prevent a spyware infection.   This will help protect you by blocking the spyware from ever getting installed.

How to keep yourself spyware and adware free!

Since lots of adware and spyware gets installed along side so-called freeware or shareware applications, it’s important that you fully understand what is really going on during the installation process.  Often times the installation of adware or spyware applications is disguised as the installation of an “enhancement” or “third party software”.  Don’t be fooled by these labels, it’s all social engineering to trick you.

You have to be careful when installing software on your computer.  An install program has the same permissions on your computer as you do!   That means that anything can happen when you click “next” (and that includes the ability to format your HDD, or wipe away ALL the files!).  When installing new software on your computer, you have to be 100% positive that you fully trust the software publisher and their software.

When installing new software there are a few tips I can give you to help protect yourself agains adware and spyware infections:

  • Always read the EULA (End User License Agreement)
  • Carefully review all of the options and install notes during installation
  • Never speed through an installation by just clicking “next” without reading everything
  • If you don’t understand or agree with the license agreement, don’t install or ask an IT professional

There are a few warning signs to look out for as well.  Things like cryptic or unusually long user agreement are a sign that the publisher is looking to hide something.  Also if there are repeated attempts to coax you into accepting a 3rd party product then stay away, this is usually spyware.

In general it is a good idea to avoid installing anything that is not 100% needed and trusted.  Do not download and install just any old garbage.  Stay away from FREE DOWNLOAD! Links and those ridiculous smileys and avatars for instant messenger programs… they often contain unwanted code.

To help protect against unwanted spyware infections, download the latest service pack for your OS and web browser, set your internet security settings to high and refuse Active-X. Better still, switch to a non Microsoft browser since IE is most prone to infection.

I guess the best advice I can give you is BE CAREFUL and stay away from questionable software and websites.  It’s a good idea to fine tune your Internet settings, set the security to high and invest in a good piece of spyware removal software.