Viruses and Spyware (Malware)
What is spyware?
Similar in some ways to viruses, spyware is software you don't want on your computer. Sometimes, spyware can actually be more dangerous, and more difficult to remove.
Any software running on your machine that was added since you first set up your PC should be there only because you want it there. Some software programs will be recognizable to you, e.g., Microsoft Word, the software to run your printer, games you bought, etc. Other programs you may not recognize, but are necessary or useful, such as software Microsoft bundles with its operating system.
However, most PCs today are running programs that got there in mysterious and sometimes insidious ways. Often this software is installed without your being aware of it, and sometimes, without your permission. It can install itself when a "teenager" downloads "free" music -- or pictures of questionable origin. (This is a surefire way to give your computer a sexually-transmitted disease :)
The following are some common symptoms of spyware.
- PC responds slowly when you try to open programs, save files, search your hard drive, etc.
- Pop-up windows interfere whenever you try to browse the internet
- Your browser homepage gets "hijacked" (i.e., when you open the browser, the first page is not the one you expect)
- You have toolbars you don't recognize in your browser
How did spyware get there? Well, those "free" games, screensavers, and "software to speed up your PC", "to fix your PC's clock" -- or, horribile dictu -- "to get rid of spyware!" -- are not really free -- and often don't do what they proclaim. They usually come with an expensive price tag -- and are rarely (if ever) worth it.
What price ... What harm do they do?