Q

The effects of spyware

In this Ask the Expert Q&A, Michael Cobb discusses various methods spyware uses to compromise a PC. He also suggests tools and tactics to use to rid your PC of an infection.

How does spyware affect the speed of a PC? How can we determine if a PC has been infected?

Spyware is renowned for slowing down computers and it's one of the key signs that a computer may be infected. Spyware uses your computer's processor power and RAM resources to continually track what you are doing on your computer. It sends captured information that it has learned about you and your surfing habits over your Internet connection, then downloads and delivers masses of popup advertisements. All of these background activities slow down your computer, especially, if there is more than one spyware program active. Also, spyware is not necessarily designed to be efficient and errors in the software can make your computer crash.

Below is a list of telltale signs that could indicate that you have been infected by spyware:

  • Your PC is running unusually slow --Spyware could be hogging the system's resources.
  • Ads are popping up even when your browser isn't open, or they are addressing you by name.
  • Your browser's home page has been changed without you doing anything.
  • You have invasive toolbars appearing in your browser.
  • Your antispyware and/or antivirus programs aren't working correctly. Like viruses, some spyware will sabotage the programs designed to detect and eliminate them.
  • There's a dramatic increase in Internet traffic, soaking up bandwidth on your Internet connection, making it slow.
  • Unauthorized charges on your phone bill for 900 number pay-per-call phone calls that you didn't make.

If you suspect that your computer has been infected, you'll need to install and run at least one, if not more, antispyware programs. You can download Microsoft's Windows AntiSpyware for free and it is relatively straightforward to use. It can detect and remove known spyware on your PC and protect it against other potentially unwanted software. You can also use Spybot Search & Destroy, a freeware program that removes adware, spyware, diallers, keyloggers and Trojans. It works with all of the leading browsers and is compatible with many antivirus and other antispyware programs you may be already using. Once you have installed an antispyware program, you should run a scan on your computer to see if it is indeed infected. If the program detects an infection, it will advise you on what steps to take to remove it.

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This was first published in October 2005

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