Get rid of spyware on your computer

10:33 PM PST on Thursday, February 24, 2005


Bob Bach admits he doesn't know much about computers, but he knows he doesn't like what he sees on his: Unsolicited ads for auto insurance or porn pop up, much to his dismay.

“Again I have no control over what's coming on my computer,” said Bach. “Helpless – that’s how I feel. Vulnerable and insecure.”

Bach doesn't know it, but like millions of us, he's infected with spyware - secret software hidden on your hard drive that tracks every move you make on your computer.

Virtually any computer that has a network connection has some traces of spyware.

University of Washington security engineer Daniel Schwalbe is one of those responsible for keeping the UW's 80,000 computers safe.

“I've seen computers that are rendered useless,” said Schwalbe. “They're incapacitated because there is so much spyware on there.”

Schwalbe says most people get infected by clicking on free Internet offers or downloading free software that's bundled with spyware. That information is then sold to marketers who innundate you with spam and pop-up ads.

Spyware can also be used to steal your most valuable information. Examples include logins and passwords for Internet commerce sites, credit card numbers, etc.

What's more, most spyware is perfectly legal because you agree to it when you click on many of those long disclaimers for Internet downloads that nobody ever reads. Hidden deep inside is your consent to open your computer up to online spies everywhere.


Spybot Search and Destroy

We asked our computer expert to take a look at Bach's computer. In a matter of minutes, he found nearly 100 virtual spies lurking inside. All of this on a computer that's rarely used and barely 2 years old.

To protect yourself simply install anti-spy software, but if you order online, be sure you buy from a trusted company.

Some shady software acts as a sort of "double agent," removing other companies' spyware from your computer and installing their own.

That's a really tricky part for the home user, because whom are you going to believe?

Your safest bet is buying a name-brand product from a retail electronics dealer. The software generally runs about $30. Or you can expose the spies for free with "Spybot Search and Destroy," a donation-based organization whose mission is total elimination of spyware.

Bob got his - a techno-novice now skilled in high-tech counter espionage.



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