What you can do about spyware and other unwanted software

What is spyware?

Spyware is a general term used for software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising, collecting personal information, or changing the configuration of your computer, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent. You might have spyware or other unwanted software on your computer if:

? You see pop-up advertisements even when you're not on the Web.

? The page your Web browser first opens to (your home page) or your browser search settings have changed without your knowledge.

? You notice a new toolbar in your browser that you didn't want, and find it difficult to get rid of.

? Your computer takes longer than usual to complete certain tasks.

? You experience a sudden rise in computer crashes.


Spyware is often associated with software that displays advertisements (called adware) or software that tracks personal or sensitive information. That does not mean all software which provides ads or tracks your online activities is bad. For example, you might sign up for a free music service, but "pay" for the service by agreeing to receive targeted ads. If you understand the terms and agree to them, you may have decided that it is a fair tradeoff. You might also agree to let the company track your online activities to determine which ads to show you.

Other kinds of unwanted software will make changes to your computer that can be annoying and can cause your computer slow down or crash. These programs have the ability to change your Web browser's home page or search page, or add additional components to your browser you don't need or want. These programs also make it very difficult for you to change your settings back to the way you originally had them. These types of unwanted programs are also often called spyware.

The key in all cases is whether or not you (or someone who uses your computer) understand what the software will do and have agreed to install the software on your computer.

There are a number of ways spyware or other unwanted software can get on your system. A common trick is to covertly install the software during the installation of other software you want such as a music or video file sharing program. Whenever you are installing something on your computer, make sure you carefully read all disclosures, including the license agreement and privacy statement. Sometimes the inclusion of unwanted software in a given software installation is documented, but it may appear at the end of a license agreement or privacy statement.



Signs of spyware

If your computer starts to behave strangely or displays any of the symptoms listed below, you may have spyware or other unwanted software installed on your computer.

? I see pop-up advertisements all the time. Some unwanted software will bombard you with pop-up ads that aren't related to a particular Web site you're visiting. These ads are often for adult or other Web sites you may find objectionable. If you see pop-up ads as soon as you turn on your computer or when you're not even browsing the Web, you may have spyware or other unwanted software on your computer.

? My settings have changed and I can't change them back to the way they were. Some unwanted software has the ability to change your home page or search page settings. This means that the page that opens first when you start your Internet browser or the page that appears when you select "search" may be pages that you do not recognize. Even if you know how to adjust these settings, you may find that they revert back every time you restart your computer.

? My Web browser contains additional components that I don't remember downloading. Spyware and other unwanted software can add additional toolbars to your Web browser that you don't want or need. Even if you know how to remove these toolbars, they may return each time you restart your computer.

? My computer seems sluggish. Spyware and other unwanted software are not necessarily designed to be efficient. The resources these programs use to track your activities and deliver advertisements can slow down your computer and errors in the software can make your computer crash. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of times a certain program crashes, or if your computer is slower than normal at performing routine tasks, you may have spyware or other unwanted software on your machine.


How to get rid of spyware

Many kinds of unwanted software, including spyware, are designed to be difficult to remove. If you try to uninstall this software like any other program, you might find that the program reappears as soon as you restart your computer. If you're having trouble uninstalling unwanted software, you may need to download a tool to do the job for you. Several companies offer free and low-cost software that will check your computer for spyware and other unwanted software and help you remove it.

Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) include anti-spyware software in their service packages. Check with your ISP to see if they can recommend or provide a tool. If your ISP doesn't offer a removal tool for spyware and other unwanted software, ask people you trust to recommend one, or see the list below for a few well-known tools. Keep in mind that removing unwanted software with these tools may mean you will no longer be able to use a free program that came with the spyware.

To remove spyware
1. Download the new Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) or another spyware removal tool.

2. Run the tool to scan your computer for spyware and other unwanted software.

3. Review the files discovered by the tool for spyware and other unwanted software.

4. Select suspicious files for removal by following the tool's instructions.


How to prevent spyware

Spyware and other unwanted software can invade your privacy, bombard you with pop-up windows, slow down your computer, and even make your computer crash. Here are several ways you can help protect your computer against spyware and other unwanted software.

Step 1: Update your software
If you use Windows XP, one way to help prevent spyware and other unwanted software is to make sure all your software is updated. First, visit Windows Update to confirm that you have Automatic Updates turned on and that you've downloaded all the latest critical and security updates.

Step 2: Adjust Internet Explorer security settings
You can adjust your Internet Explorer Web browser's security settings to determine how much?or how little?information you are willing to accept from a Web site. Microsoft recommends that you set the security settings for the Internet zone to Medium or higher.

To view your current Internet Explorer security settings:

1. In Internet Explorer, click Tools and then click Internet Options.

2. Select the Security tab.


If you're running Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and you use Internet Explorer to browse the Web, your browser security settings for the Internet zone are already set to Medium by default. Internet Explorer in Windows XP SP2 also includes a number of features to help protect against spyware and many other kinds of deceptive or unwanted software.

Step 3: Use a firewall
While most spyware and other unwanted software come bundled with other programs or originate from unscrupulous Web sites, a small amount of spyware can actually be placed on your computer remotely by hackers. Installing a firewall or using the firewall that's built into Windows XP provides a helpful defense against these hackers. To learn more about firewalls, read Why you should use a computer firewall and get answers to your Frequently asked questions about firewalls.

Step 4: Surf and download more safely
The best defense against spyware and other unwanted software is not to download it in the first place. Here are a few helpful tips that can protect you from downloading software you don't want:

? Only download programs from Web sites you trust. If you're not sure whether to trust a program you are considering downloading, ask a knowledgeable friend or enter the name of the program into your favorite search engine to see if anyone else has reported that it contains spyware.
? Read all security warnings, license agreements, and privacy statements associated with any software you download.
? Never click "agree" or "OK" to close a window. Instead, click the red "x" in the corner of the window or press the Alt + F4 buttons on your keyboard to close a window.
? Be wary of popular "free" music and movie file-sharing programs, and be sure you clearly understand all of the software packaged with those programs.

Step 5: Download and install anti-spyware protection
Microsoft currently offers anti-spyware beta software for download; more information is available on our Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) site.