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Removing spyware from your PC

"My computer is running slowly."

"I'm getting a lot of unwanted ads."

"My browser's home page has changed."

All of these are symptoms of spyware, an insidious class of software that creeps into your computer and changes settings, displays advertising, or tracks Internet behavior and reports information back to a central database.

Though there is no one agreed-upon definition of spyware, most of us would agree that it is unwanted and annoying.

Fortunately, the tools to eradicate spyware from your Windows-based computer are readily available and free. Here's our take on how to get rid of this malware, as it is often caused, and clean up those annoying ads and hijacked browser pages.

First, gather the proper tools:

These are all free tools. Because there is no commonly accepted definition of spyware, each of these free scanners checks for slightly different types of spyware programs and other files (like advertiser-placed cookies). The best protection is layers of protection, which is why you should use all three programs.

Second, install Microsoft's Windows AntiSpyware. (You may encounter an annoying XP verification procedure along the way--typical Microsoft behavior. Just go through the one-time verification process.) The Windows AntiSpyware program will expire in July 2006 -- to be replaced by a subscription-based version, no doubt -- but be sure to use it now anyway. It is excellent.

Check for program updates before scanning for problems (File / Check for updates), and change the default scan properties from Quick Scan to "Run a full system scan" with all options activated. After you install and run Windows AntiSpyware (also known as Giant AntiSpyware), it will proactively protect your computer.

Third, install and run Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition. Double-click the aawpersonal.exe file and click Next four times, then Finish. The installation program will put an icon on your desktop. Close all open windows, especially any Explorer and Internet Explorer windows. Double-click the icon, then click on the Check for updates now link. In the update window, click the Connect button, then click OK to update the signature file. (Keep in mind the dates in this program are in European format, DAY.MO.YEAR.) After the update is done, click Finish, then Start. Change the default Scan Mode to "Perform full system scan, then hit Next. When the scan finishes, click Next twice and say OK when prompted. After that, you can close Ad-Aware.

Don't be alarmed by the sheer number of items that Ad-Aware finds; most of them are harmless (but also useless to you).

Fourth, install and run Spybot Search & Destroy. Double-click the spybotsd13.exe icon. click Next, Read and accept the license agreement and click Next twice. On the "Select Components" screen, uncheck everything except the "Main Files" component, then click Next twice. On the "Select Additional Tasks" screen, uncheck the "Create a Quick Launch icon", then Next and Finish.

Double-click the Spybot - Search & Destroy icon. Select the language (English is the white flag with the red cross). On the next two dialog boxes, read the warnings and click OK. Then, click the Search for updates button. Install any updates found; the program will restart on its own. After it restarts, click Check for problems. When the scan finishes, click Fix selected problems and remove everything selected by default.

Additional notes

Windows AntiSpyware is memory-resident and proactive. It watches for changes to your system that may be caused by spyware, and it warns you when it thinks you should be alerted. It also checks the Microsoft site each day for updates to its spyware definition files.

Ad-Aware and Spybot - Search & Destroy are passive programs; you must run them manually for them to protect you at all. Before running either one, make sure you have updated its spyware definition files.

Three programs, three times the fun! Spyware is nasty stuff and deserves special attention. Windows AntiSpyware will protect you from most spyware-related problems. If you want to take an active role, run Windows AntiSpyware at least once a week, and run Ad-Aware and/or Spybot - Search & Destroy on alternate weeks. And keep reading the newspapers for alerts about new threats.

More nasty business: viruses

Check out our page on virus prevention, detection, and remediation.


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The View from Landmark . . .

. . . a periodic electronic publication designed to inform subscribers of trends and issues in personal computing. Each issue features a variety of topics:

  • the latest on viruses, spam, and Internet security,
  • hardware and software technologies explained in simple English,
  • email, Web site, and
    Internet marketing tips,
  • and much more.

We invite you to visit The View from Landmark. Read our Preview Editions and sign up for a free subscription. We'll try to make it worth your while, and we promise we'll never spam you!

The View from Landmark -- a free email newsletter designed to help you make the most of your personal computer

Above: Evening rush hour in Landmark's Condo Canyon.

Other Web sites of particular interest to our clients:

Ameri-Tech Concepts, Inc. (Customer site: Remanufactured cartridges for laser printers)

Ameri-Tech Concepts, Inc. (Remanufacturers site: Tools and chemicals for cartridge remanufacturing)

Law Offices of Richard S. Stolker and Uptown Law, LLC (Regional law firm serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area)

Metropolitan Washington Mensa (Washington, DC chapter of this high-IQ social organization)

spyware.shtml     |     Updated Wednesday, November 8, 2006
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