What Is Spyware And How Can You Prevent It?

If you were to ask the average computer user what spyware is or what it does, they would probably look at you and shrug. All they probably have ever been told by others is that it’s caustic to a computer’s environment and that it’s best to be cleaned off immediately. However, what exactly is spyware, what harm does it serve to computer users and how can it be prevented?

Understanding Spyware: What is It?

You probably know enough about spyware to know that it is bad, but what is it? What does it do that causes such alarm? You can simply think of spyware as a computer program that performs questionable behavior without your consent or knowledge. These behaviors include maliciously changing a computer’s configuration, scraping/collecting confidential information from your computer, and advertising.

Learn to Recognize Spyware

If you’re browsing habits do not typically land you in heaps of spyware and adware, it can be hard for you to spot it when it’s present.

There are many warning signs that allude to the presence of spyware such as:

  • Difficulty removing a program that you don’t remember installing
  • Slower computer performance
  • Frequent computer crashes
  • A changed web browser home/search page
  • The presence of plugins or extensions in your browser that you did not install (ie. toolbars)
  • Certain settings revert back even after you change them

Other more common signs of spyware are endless pop-ups that seemingly appear out of nowhere; even if you are not browsing the internet, the appearance of new icons in the lower right task tray on Windows, and more. When multiple changes take place on your computer that you don’t remember authorizing or making yourself, there’s a very high chance that you could be dealing with spyware.

Preventing Spyware

Luckily, there are ways that you can avoid falling victim to malicious spyware program writers. Simply using a few precautions will keep you out of harm’s way of most spyware programs.

1) Read software installation instructions thoroughly. In fact, before you download anything make sure that it is coming from a trusted website. Once you have executed the program, setup instructions will more than likely begin, and you will be prompted to press “Next” to move through the steps. Be sure to read every bit of text in each text; this is often where software developers will drop spyware/adware installation confirmations.

2) Steer clear of torrent websites and file sharing. File downloading websites are absolutely notorious for being the sources of spyware-packed downloads. If at all possible, avoid these websites at all costs to avoid landing in any sort of trouble with spyware or a more serious circumstance.

3)Use add-ons to help you keep spyware at bay. Pop-up ads are very popular gateways to questionable downloads and uncertain places on the internet. With the help of add-ons such as pop-up blockers, you can prevent the possibility of even accidentally clicking on risky things such as pop-ups.

4)Download an anti-spyware program. This step in preventing spyware just might be your strongest line of defense against malicious online threats. Download a reputable and frequently updated spyware blocker and remover, and keep its definitions and program version updated to the latest release. Some programs are designed to stop spyware in its tracks by repelling the attack on the system before anything is even changed. Additionally, this software is also obviously great for removing spyware if you’ve accidentally contracted it.

5)Lastly, frequently install the latest updates for your operating system. For Windows and other similarly popular operating systems, updates are constantly being rolled out to strengthen the security between a computer and the internet. Make sure you’re getting the best protection from your operating system developer by keeping it as up to date as possible.

Alex Faubel enjoys writing about business, technology and computer-science programs in career-focused education.

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