Spyware is malicious software that runs on your computer without you realizing it. Once installed on your computer, it may monitor how you use the internet and send sensitive information to cyber-thieves. This can result in your bank or credit card details being used by criminals. Anti-spyware software protects you from spyware.
Anti-spyware software comparison chart for 2017
Anti-spyware software explained
There are lots of different types of spyware. Some are relatively harmless - the biggest inconvenience can be that it slows your computer down.
However, the most dangerous kinds of spyware run silently on your computer, monitoring every move you make. These programs may send critical pieces of data – such as your usernames, passwords, credit card details or internet banking log in information – to online criminals.
If you’re affected by this type of spyware, the first you may know of it is when your credit card hits its limit or your bank account is emptied. That’s why good anti-spyware software is essential.
An effective defense against spyware
Good anti-spyware software will provide an effective defense again all forms of spyware. It should run on your computer at all times – from the moment you turn it on to when you shut it down.
It takes a multi-layered approach to spyware detection, by:
If the software detects spyware or a source of infection - like a suspect website - it should warn you and ask how to proceed. This gives you the chance to find out more about the threat and check it’s for real before blocking it.
Anti-spyware software is easy to use. Once installed on your computer, it will run in the background, updating itself with details of the latest spyware and keeping you safe without bothering you.
Q. What is spyware?
The term spyware refers to a group of programs that were originally designed to 'snoop' an infected computer, but today's spyware can do far more. Spyware can monitor all activity on a machine as well as alter web browsers, open backdoors for remote attackers and steal personal information such as passwords and banking details. These programs are used both by legitimate companies who want more information about their customers for marketing purposes, as well as by criminal syndicates who buy and sell identities, credit card numbers and other private information. Both are motivated by the same goal, to increase their profits by secretly targeting consumers.
Q. How does spyware work?
Once installed on a computer, the program will begin logging keystrokes, websites visited, monitor online purchasing or record personal data such as names, addresses and passwords. This information is then silently sent to a third party to be aggregated and used for either legal or illegal purposes. Spyware applications can transmit their data via file transfers whilst remaining completely invisible to users physically at the computer.
Q. How dangerous is spyware?
Since these programs are often bundled with other forms of malware and Trojans, spyware represents a serious threat to online user security. Even in its 'legitimate' use by mainstream companies, spyware often violates user privacy by secretly transmitting personal information to third parties without user consent. Though most companies are required to mention the use of spyware with their programs in the end user license agreement (EULA), most users do not fully read or understand the information they are being given and therefore are inadvertently giving permission for these companies to monitor their data when installing software.
Q. How did my computer become infected with spyware?
Many music programs, file sharing programs and instant messaging applications have built-in spyware to improve marketing strategies. Though these programs are declared in the EULA, most users have no idea what information is being transmitted or who is receiving it. If a user does discover the spyware on their computer, disabling or removing it will often render the original software useless.Another method of infection is through infected websites in what is termed 'drive-by installation' or through the use of pop-up ads. These websites are designed to install their malware on to a victim's machine without any notification. These types of installations are usually accompanied by some form of adware and users will notice pop-up ads or browser changes that weren't authorised.
Q. How can I tell if my computer is infected with spyware?
A single spyware infection is often completely undetectable. Spyware is designed to run silently because the longer it can remain resident on your computer, the more profit the owner of the software stands to make. However, when more than one spyware application is loaded, potential conflicts can arise between the software as well as a noticeable burden placed on the OS and network. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it might be a sign of spyware infection.
Q. Can I remove spyware myself?
It is not advisable to manually remove spyware from your computer unless you have expert knowledge of your operating system. Spyware applications often run themselves as system processes and install registry keys. Tampering with either of those without extensive knowledge could permanently damage your computer. If you suspect you may have a spyware infection, using antivirus software combined with specialised malware removal programs would be the most effective solution.
Q. Are there any effective spyware removal packages?
There are several effective spyware removal packages available, both free versions as well as paid versions. Some of the most popular free versions would include SpyBot Search & Destroy, AdAware and, for the more advanced user, HijackThis. Microsoft also offers a free anti-malware tool for its Windows OS. Most anti-malware software offers a 'standard or basic' mode that will remove spyware with minimal risk to the computer. However, some infections can be difficult or impossible to remove without expert assistance.
Q. Can spyware copy and distribute itself?
Spyware cannot copy or distribute itself but it is often bundled with other malicious software, such as viruses and worms, which can. However, the most common method of distribution is through file downloads rather than through viruses. Most users acquire spyware through downloads such as file sharing programs, music and video programs, chat software, email or infected websites.
Q. How do anti-spyware programs combat spyware?
Anti-spyware programs scan, detect and remove known spyware applications. The software companies who create them compile new data about spyware threats on a daily basis and issue updates to protect their software users. Users can perform on-demand file scans before installations or they can run a full system scan to look for any already installed spyware components. Most anti-spyware packages also include a built-in prevention tool that monitors the operating system and browser settings, which are often targeted by spyware. They will then warn the user when any attempts to change these settings occurs.
Q. What should I do once infected with spyware?
If you suspect you have been infected with spyware, scan your system using both anti-virus software as well as several anti-malware suites to ensure that all threats are detected and removed. Multiple anti-malware programs will give a higher probability of all threats being resolved. However, no single software suite can guarantee 100% threat removal because spyware creators modify their programs daily to avoid detection.
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