Spot Spyware and Get Rid of It For Good

In this day and age, more and more people have easy access to a personal computer and the internet. While this is one of the great technological hallmarks of the 21st century, the benefit of easy access to information on the internet often comes at a cost. Gone are the days when scanning your computer for viruses was all you needed to do to ensure that your computer remained healthy and up-to-date. Now that global connectedness is on an unparalleled scale, several new threats exist that can easily put your computer and personal information at risk. This dangerous new breed of software, otherwise known as “malware” (malicious software), targets users who may not be tremendously computer savvy, such as children, busy parents and seniors. One of the most disconcerting threats for the unmeticulous computer user is spyware – a dangerous tool that companies and other entities of dubious repute use to monitor general computer and web activity.

The Advent of Spyware

Prior to the massive growth and success of the World Wide Web among consumers, one of the most basic threats that put computer users most at risk was the good old fashioned computer virus. Because computers had yet to be connected with each other to the extent that they are today, computer viruses during the golden age of personal computing in the 1990s were mostly contained on one’s own computer. Usually the only means of passing on a computer virus to another during this time was by copying infected files from one computer to another, often through the use of a floppy disk. With the advent of the internet and easily networked computers, the risks of a computer virus skyrocketed. Fortunately, so did the quality and accessibility of software needed to combat these infections.
Since 1995, profit-motivated companies and individuals looked toward less transparent means of finding out information about their potential consumers. In order to do so, they began to rely upon spyware to track and report back the usage and browsing habits of computer users. Spyware, though similar in nature to computer viruses, is a completely different threat category in and of itself. Unlike malicious virus attacks, which put a computer and its data directly at risk, spyware is a more deceptive threat to the security of your data and personal information. Moreover, spyware is usually installed on a public or personal computer in order to covertly spy on users and sell the information it gleans from people’s browsing habits and/or personal information. Viruses, on the other hand, are a more vindictive class of malware, and thus, are less prevalent these days among normal, day-to-day users. While the inherent risks of spyware are not necessarily as strong as a virus or worm, the danger it creates with regards to your privacy and the privacy of your personal information is very real.

Usually, spyware is packaged with or distributed through other bona-fide software programs; it is often installed on a user’s computer without their knowledge. Sometimes, over the course of installing a program, prompts to install unwanted third-party software will deceptively pop up. A less than careful computer user might miss these prompts or accidentally accept the installation of this software without knowing the dangerous implications of doing so. Weatherbug is perhaps one of the most widely-known examples of a seemingly harmless program loading spyware and adware on a person’s home computer in a consciously deceptive way. Also, persistent security flaws in Microsoft Internet Explorer, a browser still widely used, allow spyware distributors to install malicious software on your computer without your knowledge. Using one of the most secure web browsers available, as well as carefully learning about the software you choose to install on your home computer, are two key drivers in making sure your system remains malware and spyware-free from the get go.

Winning the Battle Against Spyware

Aside from remaining vigilant about the software you choose to install and use on your computer, several excellent companies have cropped up over the past few decades that provide world-class software to aid in the detection and removal of spyware. Here are a few major examples:

  1. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware: This excellent spyware fighting tool is perhaps one of the most robust and effective anti-malware programs currently on the market. While the free version of the software is enough for most users to keep their computer and personal data safe, for more at-risk users, an investment in the PRO version is definitely something to consider.
  1. Microsoft Security Essentials: Microsoft is no stranger to security criticism, particularly when considering the several past and present security flaws of its flagship web browsing software. Despite these flaws, Microsoft has definitely done much to patch up its relationship with users by creating this excellent piece of anti-malware/spyware software – and it’s completely free to use!
  1. SUPERAntiSpyware: As one of the top choices among more advanced users, this spyware detection and removal tool shouldn’t be the first choice for less savvy computer users. However, like the two programs recommended above, SUPERAntiSpyware boasts some of the best security features around, and should definitely be considered when installing your own personal suite of security software.

Will We Ever Be Safe from Spyware?

While most people are equipped to stop spyware in its tracks, the short answer to the above question is: probably not. No matter how strong our friendly anti-malware programmers get at detecting and removing spyware from our computers, chances are that malware creators and distributors will only find better and smarter ways to get around their security features.

The good news is that we are also protected now more than ever before, and by simply downloading one or two of the above software options, chances are that you’ll never have an unpleasant run-in with spyware ever again. However, downloading third-party anti-malware software should never become an excuse to overlook your own computer’s security, as well as the security of the personal information you store therein. Always make sure that you use only the most up-to-date and secure web browser when connecting to the internet. Also, paying close attention to the software you download on your system, as well as the various third-party software deceptively packaged within the install program will ensure that you’ll never be at fault for downloading and installing malicious software. In the end, effectively combating malware and spyware is both our personal and shared responsibility. With several excellent tools and resources at our disposal – spyware simply won’t get the best of us.