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What is Spyware?

lock superimposed on a computer screenSpyware is a type of computer program that attaches itself to your operating system, generally without your permission or knowledge.  It can be designed to track your Internet use, generate advertising pop-ups, take you to advertising sites, or sometimes even log information that you type into your computer.  It can make your computer run extremely slow, bog down your network, or it could run quietly in the background and hardly be noticed at all.  Spyware is a prevalent problem, and may even be infecting a majority of systems connected to the Internet.  It is a problem that continues to grow for organizations and home users alike.

How to recognize and avoid Spyware

Because of its popularity, the Internet has become an ideal target for advertising.  As a result, Spyware, or adware, has become increasingly prevalent.  When troubleshooting problems with your computer, you may discover that the source of the problem is Spyware software that has been installed on your machine without your knowledge.

How do you know if there is Spyware on your computer?

The following symptoms may indicate that Spyware is installed on your computer:

  • You are subject to endless pop-up windows
  • You are redirected to web sites other than the one you typed into your browser
  • New, unexpected toolbars appear in your web browser
  • New, unexpected icons appear in the task tray at the bottom of your screen
  • Your browser's home page suddenly changed
  • The search engine your browser opens when you click "search" has been changed
  • Certain keys fail to work in your browser (e.g. the tab key doesn't work when you are moving to the next field within a form)
  • Random Windows error messages begin to appear
  • Your computer suddenly seems very slow when opening programs or processing tasks (saving files, etc._

How can you prevent Spyware from installing on your computer?

To avoid unintentionally installing it yourself, follow these good security practices:

  • Don't' click on lines within pop-up windows. Because pop-up windows are often a product of Spyware, clicking on the window may install Spyware software on your computer. To close the pop-up window, click on the "X" icon in the title bar instead of a "close" link within the window
  • Choose "no" when asked unexpected questions. Be wary of unexpected dialog boxes asking whether you want to run a particular program or perform another type of task. Always select "no" or "cancel" or close the dialog box by clicking the "X" icon in the title bar.
  • Be wary of free downloadable software. There are many sites that offer customized toolbars or other features that appeal to users. Don't download programs from sites you don't trust, and realize that you may be exposing your computer to Spyware by downloading some of these programs.
  • Don't follow email links claiming to offer anti-Spyware software. Like email viruses, the links may serve the opposite purpose and actually install the Spyware it claims to be eliminating.

As an additional good security practice, especially if you are concerned that you might have Spyware on your machine and want to minimize the impact, consider taking the following action:

  • Adjust your browser preferences to limit pop-up windows and cookies. Pop-up windows are often generated by some kind of scripting or active content. Adjusting the settings within your browser to reduce or prevent scripting or active content may reduce the number of pop-up windows that appear. Some browsers offer a specific option to block or limit pop-up windows. Certain types of cookies are sometimes considered spyware because they reveal what web pages you have visited. You can adjust your privacy settings to only allow cookies for the web site you are visiting.
  • Also, be sure to visit the UCO Tech Store and select the "Home Use Programs" link. After logging in the free Symantec Anti-Virus software will be available for download.

How do you remove Spyware?

Run a full scan on your computer with your anti-virus software. Some anti-virus software will find and remove Spyware, but it may not find the Spyware when it is monitoring your computer in real-time. Set your anti-virus software to prompt you to run a full scan periodically.  Run a legitimate product specifically designed to remove Spyware. Many vendors offer products that will scan your computer for Spyware and remove any Spyware software.

This information was reproduced from the DAS Information Security Office and MS-ISAC.