Computing: The Ware Brothers — Ad, Spy and Mal
Most users are familiar with the unfortunate fact of computer viruses and the need to regularly download updates and patches to keep their computers safe. But another category of “malware” (malicious software) that is usually not detected by antivirus systems is so-called Spyware or Adware. Spyware broadly covers anything on your system that could compromise your privacy or security but isn't a virus, trojan or worm.
For example, some browser cookies, while harmless, are considered spyware because websites use them to track you as you move around the web. Other types of spyware are code that can modify your system, track what you do, slow your computer down and in extreme cases, redirect your internet connection to an expensive third party (a “dialer”).
Spyware/adware has become such a problem that if your system is slow or behaving strangely the first thing you should do after checking for viruses is check for spyware. And, to crib an old Monty Python joke, the problem got so bad that even Microsoft had to sit up and take notice: http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/devioussoftware.mspx.
Spyware is most likely to wriggle into your system if you are missing important software updates, but it can also appear if you are prompted to download something and you choose Yes without knowing what it is. So keeping your system updated and refusing suspicious requests on the internet will deflect most of the junk.
The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to keep your system clean.
There are a few spyware removers; our favourite is Malwarebytes which is free for personal use. Like antivirus software, it needs updating regularly, and this can be done easily using the “Check for Updates” button.
The first time you run a spyware remover you are likely to have dozens or hundreds of candidates to be removed; but don't panic, the majority are just your accumulated collection of cookies. You may also need to reboot and run the process again to fully remove some items.