If you've ever wondered how unknown software got on your computer, and
spent even more time wondering how to get it off, chances are you've
encountered spyware. Below are a few simple steps to remove spyware from
Q. My computer's been very sluggish lately, and I seem to get a lot of those pop-up ads. What's going on?
A. You possibly have what's commonly known as "spyware", though its makers prefer the term "adware." These are programmes installed on computers, often without their owners' full knowledge, to monitor web surfing activity and to serve the user with relevant advertisements.
One type, called "browser hijackers," change the home page settings on your browser, usually taking you to unfamiliar search engines and pages.
Spyware can be tricky to find and remove, but fortunately there are free software products available to get rid of it.
First, you should think about how you might have got the programme in the first place - did you download and install file-sharing or other free software?
In that case you probably got spyware as part of the deal. It's a bargain you made when you installed the free software by clicking "yes". The details are in the legal language you probably didn't bother to read. Buried in the legalese often is disclosure of such ad products.
But there are even trickier ways that spyware sneaks onto your computer.
If your web browser's security settings are set low, you might have got it simply by visiting a website. Perhaps you mistyped a domain name and got a search engine you never heard of; one that sneakily placed the spyware into your computer.
Pop-up messages that claim to help your computer run better are all too often fronts for getting you to accept spyware installations.
Spyware can slow down your computer or net surfing because it continually delivers pop-up ads. Some are not written well and so they conflict with existing programmes, causing computers to crash or to use computer resources inefficiently.
In some cases, you can manually remove spyware by using the "Add/Remove Programs" option in the Windows control panel. But the less ethical spyware makers don't make removal that easy.
Instead, it's best to run some free software programmes designed to find and root out spyware.
You could start by visiting "Bleeping Computer" and download and run "AdwCleaner" (just Google it) and "RogueKiller", both are free and very good at cleaning your machine of the nasty stuff.
Run a scan through your machine and remove any programmes or files you don't need, keeping in mind that in some cases, spyware removal can also disable file-sharing and other software (you should remove everything, and reinstall the free software again if it stops working). Then run the scan again.
If your computer is seriously bogged down with spyware, you may have trouble downloading the anti-spyware products before your computer crashes. In that case, you may have to obtain the programmes from another computer with a CD burner or USB flash drive, then load the software onto your troubled computer.
Once you've removed the nasties, do a scan every so often in case new spyware has sneaked in. Just make sure you update the lists first, as spyware makers are constantly finding new ways to get into your system.
Q. Why doesn't my anti-virus programme get rid of this stuff?
A. Because it's not a virus. It's associated with software that you have downloaded (either intentionally or not). A virus is an entirely different entity.
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