People always phone me and ask my help like this “Hallo Maata, I need help. My computer’s slow and I keep getting popups when I browse the web”. My standard replay these days is “Stop downloading junk and surfing porn.” Some people take the humour, other’s … uh, my friend circle just doesn’t seem to grow that fast… But now, out of frustration I’m telling the whole planet how to remove spyware / malware / unwelcome content.
A few brief descriptions of the top ones
Spyware is software that monitors and reports on the actions and doings of users on infected computers. This can be as simple as watching which websites are being accessed to stealing login and banking details. The worst kind is the keyloggers. They send everything to a central site where the details are processed and then abused.
Adware is programs that make those annoying popups, show their own advertisments in place of other people’s (they literally hijack the advertising spots on websites and put their own ads in there). They have also been known to track web usage to better target ads. Favourite method of infection is via toolbars. These guys hide inside your browser as a Browser Helper Object. They also like to hijack your start page.
Trojans are nasty little buggers. Even nastier when you try to remove them. They don’t really do any direct harm as their name sake (Trojan horse that brought the city of Troy to shambles). But it’s what they bring with that’s the problem. They usually get installed along with other software (free games, toolbars and the likes) and then all of a sudden they invite their buddies in. And their’ buddies can be anything from spyware, adware, keyloggers or full blown viruses. These guys are luckily easy to spot in Task Manager. Just check what the “command line” says.
Now why, you ask, doesn’t normal antivirus programs pick up these spyware stuff? Well, cause they don’t really do harm to your computer. A virus is classified as something that does harm and negatively impacts the computers overall performance… (which leads me to stating that Facebook and Youtube are both virusses). Some antivirus vendors have also now started scanning for spyware, but most of them wants you to upgrade to this functionality.
First, let’s cover how you get them… STOP TRUSTING PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET. Downloading that silly little smiley toolbar for IE, that’s PROBABLY SPYWARE. Install “free” programs from the internet… that usually comes with spyware. Those little screensavers…spyware mostly… those cracks you downloaded from isohunt and TPB… yup, you guessed it… VIRUS (and if you’re lucky some spyware or trojan).
Folks, seriously, very few people would give you something for free without getting something back. Even the opensource community gets something back (fame, consulting fees, sponsors, investors, job offers, buyouts, etc.). Now if someone (like a software vendor) offers you a free toolbar, just say no unless it’s one of the big boys and even then, think twice. Do you really need it? What on earth would you really want more FB toolbars? If you want better Google integration, get Chrome(d).
(On a side note, I’m pretty disappointed with Daemon Tools these day, cause they’ve also partially resorted to marketing spyware in their free licensed version.)
OK, back on track. The tool I use to get rid of these bothersome guests is called Spybot Search & Destroy. It’s been around for jonks. And it’s been recently updated to version 2. I’ve been using version 1.62 for about 2 1/2 years and only recently gone up to 2 (just before my Samsung went DOA). If you’re a new user, go for version 2. It’s pretty user friendly as well.
It’s fast and thorough. It’s 35MB initial download (at time of writing) and another 20MB +/- of files and signatures once it’s installed. Signatures are the listing that Spybot uses to search for spyware.
Installation is pretty straight forward. If you’re lazy (or sometimes careless on the internet) rather choose the option that Spybot automatically takes care of itself. It’s a default setting which basically makes Spybot resident in memory the whole time (at about 65MB cost in total at most). This basically monitors your browser’s behaviour, cookies, new files, accessed files, updates signatures automatically and blocks unwanted and reported websites. Basically it’s an antivirus scanner focused on spyware and the likes.
But when you let it run. Phew, you’d be amazed at what you thought was nifty was actually spying on you from the internet. It’ll analyse your whole computer and report to you what was found. Cookies and the likes are invasion of privacy (they’re tracking you, Google being the biggest badass of them all). So, remove them. Anything that’s found is a hazard. Remove them.
If you’re lucky to have found nothing, WELL DONE… or you also just got a new computer?