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Teenangels / Scrapbook / Articles / Spyware: how to detect spyware

Spyware: how to detect spyware

Detecting spyware is easy. There are several free detection programs, and most current antivirus software programs detect at least some spyware. The two most popular spyware detection and removal tools are listed below:

With Spybot, after you update by clicking on "Search for updates", you can select "Check for Problems" to scan your computer for spyware. It will then allow you to "fix selected problems."

In Ad-Aware, first update by clicking on "Check for updates now." Then select "Scan now" to scan your computer. After the scan is done, select the spyware objects you wish to remove and click on next to complete the process. These objects will be quarantined in a backup directory *, which you can save or delete as you see fit.

* Note that Spybot will sometimes detect the Ad-Aware directory as containing spyware. Ad-Aware does not contain any spyware, those detections concern the aforementioned backup directory.

How can I remove spyware?
Once you have detected spyware with the programs listed above, you may also use them to remove it. Very rarely, more direct action is needed to remove a piece of spyware. Contact WiredSafety's Internet Security Team to get help, at

How can I prevent spyware?
There are several steps you can take to prevent spyware.

Be Proactive.
The first and most effective method of prevention is to never install applications from a Web site unless you know exactly what that application does and what company created it. This also applies to applications downloaded from the Web.

Disable third party cookies
"Cookies" are used by many pieces of spyware or Web sites to watch where the user has previously been and to record information for future visits. They reside in your Web browser's cache directory, and each is tied to a specific Web site or service.
To reduce the types of cookies allowed by Internet Explorer:
1. Click on the Tools menu in Internet Explorer and then on Privacy.
2. Make sure the setting is set to at least "Medium-high." This will block many problem causing cookies which can be used to gather your information. Higher settings may be done with the advanced option, but at the price of ease of use.

Enable prompting for software installation.
By default, Internet Explorer will allow the installation of ActiveX controls on your computer. These include such spyware products such as "Gator," a well known spyware application. Without these more restrictive settings, spyware can be installed without your knowledge just by visiting some sites. With the following settings turned on, spyware must be authorized to be installed. That means that you need to grant permission by clicking OK or Yes or something like that when your computer asks you if it's ok to install. That gives you the chance to see it, and delete it or prevent its installation. Note that these protections only work for spyware installed directly from the web.

For spyware in e-mails or spam, you may not get that warning. A good rule of thumb for e-mail is that if you don't know the person sending it to you, and it contains only a vague reference, part of a word, or something you don't use in the subject, then you should probably delete it unopened. E-mail can open small programs that connect your computer to a Web site or server to let others know you are looking at that e-mail - which in turn gets you more spam. It's a vicious and hard-to-break cycle. To change your settings in Internet Explorer to reduce spyware installation without your knowledge, read on.

To disable automatic installation of programs in Internet Explorer, take these steps:

1. Click on the Tools menu in Internet Explorer, and then on Security.
2. Make sure the setting is set to "Medium" or "Custom."
3. Click on the Custom Level button.
4. Under the 'ActiveX controls and plugins' area, select these options:

  • Download signed ActiveX controls - select Prompt
  • Download Unsigned ActiveX controls - select Disable
  • Initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe - select Disable
  • Run ActiveX controls and plugins - select Prompt *
  • Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting - select Prompt *

* The last two options may cause annoyance, as they will prompt you to run the ActiveX application each time. These can be set to "enable" if they cause too many problems, but will be less secure. The first three should be set exactly as marked.

Don't run file-swapping software
Most free file-sharing applications contain spyware. If you install one of these programs, you run the risk of getting bundled spyware. While not all file-sharing sites have this problem, many do. If you must use file-sharing sites, check for online reviews to see which ones are best to use and contain less (or no) spyware.

Read the EULA
EULA stands for "End User License Agreement" and is the large block of legal text that is displayed before each program. While time consuming, reading these notices can let you know if spyware is installed on a system. Unfortunately, often times this is impossible or very difficult because of the length or complexity of the EULA in question. Again, online reviews can help with this.

Set your Web browsers history to one day
This will remove session information which can be used by spyware programs for tracking information. In Internet Explorer, this is set in the Tools->Internet Options->General tab.

Use a firewall product
There are two methods of running a firewall, through hardware or software:
Hardware firewalls are fairly cheap (about $100), do not usually need to be upgraded, and can easily be added to a network. They take the form of a physical device which is plugged into the user's home network between their outside network connection and computer inside.
Software based firewalls are run through a program on the computer, and are somewhat more flexible. Here are some free firewalls and firewall information sites available on the web. There are more out there, of course. This is only a representative sample:

Use an antivirus product
Modern antivirus scanners now detect and remove many pieces of spyware, in addition to other forms of malware. Remember to keep your antivirus program up to date, as new viruses come out daily. It is a good idea to start up your computer, then update your antivirus program before you check email or visit any Web sites. Many people update weekly, but these days, daily is a good idea - and it only takes a few moments.

Install a pop-up blocker
This can prevent many of the pop-up ads created if spyware is installed. A popular pop-up blocker is available from Google at: (Just make sure to not check the "PageRank" feature which can gather anonymous information for Google, unless you are willing to have them collect this.) Many other toolbars and products specifically block pop-ups, such as,fid,8060,00.asp.


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