Protect Your PC: Spyware and Adware

Spyware, adware, pop-ups and pop-unders have been the "death" of my PC a few times in the past. I do a lot of surfing looking for textures to use on my Sims creations, and sometimes end up in those dark corners of the internet where everything gets thrown at you at the same time. Don't you just feel violated when that happens?

I've decided to share a few of my personal favorite solutions for this problem, since it's something I usually tell my friends when I get the "Sorry for not replying, I had some computer problems and had to reformat." e-mail.

But to beat your adversary you first have to know it, so let's talk a bit about the different types of spyware.

These are the most common:

  • Trackware - keeps track of all the browsing you do on the internet, usually tracking cookies.
  • Adware - shows ads on your desktop.
  • Keyloggers - these little buggers record everything you type, including logins and password.
  • Browser Hijackers - the annoying home page switches.
  • Trojans - not just a virus, the Trojans are actually pieces of software that can allow others to take control your system. They are usually pretty sneaky and sometimes can't be removed.

How do you know your computer might be affected? The most common "symptoms" include performance slowdowns, unwanted pop-ups, strange toolbars on your browser, your home page keeps changing to something other than what you had it set for, unknown programs running or random and frequent error messages. Keep an eye out for any of these so you can act quickly.

There are a few solutions to help get your PC back in shape. No, you don't have to spend big bucks on expensive software, these are all free and reliable tools.

Spyware Blaster is basically a "vaccine" program that prevents things for entering your system in the first place. It also has an extensive block list of suspicious sites. You have to connect manually for updates since it's a free version, but doing it once every 2 weeks is good enough. You only need to run it for the updates, other than that, it sits quietly in your system, doing its job.

Download it at: http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html

Note: Spyware Blaster will block anything from ad.doubleclick.net, which many sites use for third-party advertising, so if you see broken images in certain sites, that's probably why.

Ad-Aware SE Personal is another personal favorite tool that removes unwanted things. It checks for updates automatically when you launch it. You can do thorough or quick scans, and in the end it shows you the results, explains what the types of adware/spyware are, grades them by threat level, and lets you pick which ones you want to remove. Any unwanted files are placed on quarantine logs, which you can then delete.

Download it at: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/

The following are online tools, but very reliable, they're from the makers of PC-Cilin. The spyware scanner usually finds things that Ad-Aware won't, so it's a good backup tool. Both require a small download for the Java applet to work. The anti-virus detects those hidden Trojans, and it's a good choice since sometimes your own anti-virus may become infected too. Trend Micro has a good encyclopedia that tells you more about all kinds of spyware and viruses, with tips on what to do if you can't remove something.

Trend Micro House Call: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/
Trend Micro Spyware Scan: http://www.trendmicro.com/spyware-scan/

Another good idea is to download a pop-up blocker and for this, the Yahoo or Google tool bars do the trick. They're both basically the same, but each has a couple of distinct features (like translator or spell checker), so pick what suits you best.

Google Tool Bar: http://toolbar.google.com/
Yahoo Tool Bar: http://toolbar.yahoo.com/

For those of you familiar with programs of this type, you might be asking yourselves "What about Spybot Search and Destroy?" Well, I did use it for a while, but found that Ad-Aware would detect more things than Spybot did, thus providing better removal, so I switched.

I hope all these useful trinkets help your PC get in better shape. As for me, I haven't had problems since I started using them, even while surfing the dark corners of the internet, still looking for textures.