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Beginner's Guide to Spyware Prevention
INTRODUCTION
What is 'spyware'?
One of the most common threats of the computer industry today is that of Spyware. Spyware is a broad term that includes many types of threats, many of which are not categorized as viruses. Virus scanners therefore do not protect you from these threats.

Spyware (in general) is software that is installed without the users� knowledge, and collects information about the person, or their surfing habits. Similar to Spyware is Ad-ware, which delivers advertisements onto your PC in the form of pop-ups and spam. Once you have Spyware on your system, you will most likely have slow system performance, breaches in security, spam email, and uncontrollable pop-up advertisements.

Once they are installed, these programs can be very hard to get rid of. This guide is meant to help users understand the risks of spyware, how to recognize it, and what to do to prevent its occurrence on your computer.


Different types / What They Do
Some of the different types of software included in the term �Spyware� are:
  • Spyware - A program intended to collect information about the user, usually without their knowledge or consent
  • Adware - A program that�s purpose is to distribute advertisements through either pop-ups, spam email, etc.
  • Trojan - A program that comes bundled inside of another software package (i.e. trojan horse), that is unknown to the user. Trojans are a popular way to distribute spyware.
  • Page Hijacker - A modification to the system that will redirect the user�s homepage, and/or search page to another site.

How is it a threat?
Most types of spyware are used by marketing companies to distribute advertisements in any way that they can. Through spyware, these companies can record websites visited, which advertisements are clicked, and your search items in order to better understand your interests. The danger is that it is possible for these same techniques to be misused to collect personal information, and credit card information for identity theft.

At the same time, many of these programs open up your computer to outside influence, creating a security risk. They will often download updates and additional software without your consent, making your computer vulnerable to attack.


RECOGNIZING SPYWARE
Most ad-delivery systems initially come in the form of ActiveX controls. While browsing the web, you may be asked by some websites to install a browser plugin or toolbar. They will claim to provide you with helpful tools, search results, and free web content. Some will also say that you need these plugins to continue to access their site. In most cases you do not need or want these on your system. Click cancel or the �X� unless you are sure!

Examples:
Popup Warning

ActiveX Install Warning

Many online game sites will require you to download and install a �plugin� to play their games. Be wary of these types of sites; often they use games and other free content to lure you into installing the ad delivery systems. Sites that provide free games, screensavers, song lyrics, email smileys, and music will often be listed as �ad-supported� content. This means that advertisers are paying for the content to be provided, in exchange for your viewing sponsored ads.

Make sure you read their license agreements carefully, to determine exactly HOW they will provide their promised "free" content.

IE Security Warning

In this example the company clearly states that advertisements will be delivered in the form of pop-pups, and by installing the plugin, you are giving them explicit permission to do this. All license agreements deny any responsibility for damage to your computer, as well as hindering your system�s performance as a result of installing their software. In other words, you are on your own.


AVOIDING SPYWARE
Updates
Keeping your computer up-to-date diminishes the possibility that a threat can get into your computer without your knowledge. Periodically checking Windows Update for security updates is a good start, but be sure to keep your virus scanner up-to-date as well. Many newer virus scanners are starting to pick up on other forms of internet security risks as well as viruses.

Non-reputable Websites
The best way to avoid dangerous forms of spyware is to stay away from websites who provide services which are less reputable. Such websites as those that provide hacking tools, passwords to subscription websites, and sites that promote generally illegal activities.

Phony Websites
Sometimes websites are designed to �look like� other websites that people may want to visit. An example would be a site that has a very similar URL to the real website�s address, perhaps accidentally entered as a typo. Someone could purchase a site name such as www.google.org, and trick users into thinking they are at www.google.com. In this case, a user could believe that the phony website is installing software from a trusted source.

Search Engines
A small portion of search engines are associated with marketing companies, and are more likely to lead you to sites with spyware content. Usually, these search engines will show you results linking to other search engines� results, and are thus not very helpful to use. Be careful of using these types of search sites.


REMOVING SPYWARE
Free Tools
There are several industry-accepted tools that are free to use for removing these Spyware applications. You must use your judgment deciding whether or not to use them. Use these at your own risk. A few are listed here, with links to the manufacturer�s websites:
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/ - Lavasoft Ad-Aware
http://www.safer-networking.org/ - Spybot Search & Destroy
http://www.microsoft.com/spyware/ - Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (Beta version)
http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/ - Javacool Spyware Blaster

Pay Subscription Tools
Some companies will sell you a program (similar to a virus scanner) which will remove spyware threats from your computer. You will usually get a 1-year subscription to updates for the scanner, just like your virus scanner. If you choose this route, be extremely careful when choosing a vendor, as many marketing companies are also selling these tools. Their tools are often designed to remove only their competitors� spyware/adware and leave the rest!

Professional Help
There are some websites which will offer services to help you remove spyware threats from your computer. They will require you to send them a long list of the files settings on your computer, and then they suggest which to remove or change.

If you do not feel comfortable making major changes to your computer, Banshee Computer Consulting will be there to help. Sometimes spyware can be deep-rooted into a system and requires significant (and potentially damaging) changes to remove it. Banshee can remove the spyware threats safely, and can perform any other maintenance (updates, etc) to get your computer running smoothly again.