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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Remove Spyware and Adware


How to Remove Spyware

Do you have a spyware infestation? Do you know what actions to take once your laptop or PC is infected with spyware, ad-ware or viruses?

It's estimated that around 90 percent of computer systems are infected with some form of spyware, ad-ware or virus. With odds like that, it's very likely that your computer either now has, or will soon manifest signs of a system take-over.

What is Spyware and What Does it Do?

Spyware is generally defined as software that secretly takes advantage of vulnerabilities in a user’s computer system to the benefit of an unseen third party. The name spyware comes from the fact that the software often records information about your computer and transmits that information covertly to a remote server or intruder. Spyware can make your laptop or PC slow down, crash, get infected with viruses and worms and even cause hard drive erasure. This is on top of collecting sensitive data like your passwords, logins and banking or credit card details.


Spyware often comes bundled together with Ad-ware and browser hijackers. Ad-ware displays advertisements and hijackers secretly change your browser settings. An example of Ad-ware is a pop-up generator, which opens advertisements in pop-up browser windows, even when you're not searching the Web. Having recently had a severe encounter with Ad-ware on my own laptop, I can personally atest to the disruption, inconvenience and loss of sanity they can cause.

My system suddenly seemed possessed and would pop up cryptic error messages every 10 minutes or so. These messages were not true errors, but they were meant to give me the impression they were. An icon would later appear in my system tray which when clicked, started Internet explorer and opened to an anti-spyware site that offered to fix the problem with their own custom spyware removal software for around $30. I won't tell you the name of the site because I don't want anyone else to possibly get an infection but this company was obviously responsible for the problem in the first place. Of course, I didn't fall for this conspicuous sales ploy and if the same thing ever happens to you, DON'T buy anything from them. These slime-balls should never be allowed to profit from their "hold your system hostage" style tactics. Not only that, but they may be setting you up for another round of infections.

These pop-ups were difficult to locate and remove and what made things even more scary was that I also found malicious  Trojans and Keyloggers on my system.

Anyway, I eventually removed my infestation but not until after several days of trying different Spyware/Ad-ware removal programs.

I'll get into how to remove these nasty bugs in a moment. First let's focus on how to spot the signs that your system may be the victim of an unwanted infestation.

7 Signs of Spyware Infestation

  • You're observing inexplicable slowdowns and crashes, especially when searching the Internet or running a security or anti-virus program
  • Your Internet web browser opens to an unknown homepage, returns unanticipated search results, or directs you to an unsolicited website
  • You find that your mouse, keyboard, monitor, or CD/DVD drive is unresponsive or acting unpredictably
  • Pop-up or pop-under browser windows are opening when you are not surfing the Web, or are opening so often as to be distracting
  • Your security or anti-virus programs are not functioning, and/or you cannot visit security-related web sites (eg. www.symantec.com)
  • A program or application that you've tried to uninstall reappears when you reboot your computer
  • Your PC seems to "have a mind of its own" and is difficult or impossible to control 

Do you have some or all of these signs? If you do, you definitely have a spyware/malware situation on your hands and need to take action to identify and remove them before they do damage to your system.

Ways to Remove Spyware

1. Reformat Your Hard Drive

I DON'T recommend you start with this method, but the easiest and most obvious way of removing malicious pests from your PC is to reformat your hard disk. In the event that you turn on your PC and the infestation is so rampant as to make using your computer unbearable and removal impossible (and some infestations are), you may need to seriously consider this option. In this scenario, simply slide a Windows XP or Vista CD into your ROM drive, re-boot, and go through a complete reinstallation of Windows. Don’t forget to enter your BIOS/CMOS and change your boot sequence so your CD-ROM drive boots before your hard drive. Backup your data but don't backup programs, since they are very likely infected. If you copy these files back onto your clean system, it could become infected all over again. You'll need to reinstall your favorite programs from the original disks once Windows has finished reinstalling. This is a last ditch case though and should only be considered if no other solution works for you. Of all the ways, it is the ONLY way to truly be sure your system is virus free. It's brutal but it's effective.

2. Try Free Spyware Removal Software

If you’ve simply got a few small issues and your computer still runs properly, then you can opt to clean up your hard drive with any number of programs. There are many, many free ones out there, but the ones I suggest would be Lavasoft Ad-Aware and Spybot: Search and Destroy. Both of these programs are free and can be downloaded via their respective web sites.

The most user-friendly program of the two is Ad-Aware If you're a newbie or don't really "get" computers, it's a suitable free solution. It will locate and remove just about all the malware out there. None of the solutions I tried detects every spyware out there. That's because there's so many of them, no one company can encompass them all. But this is good and it's free.

Spybot is a program for more advanced users. It's one of the best, but if you have trouble understanding and coping with PC problems, you might have difficulty figuring out how to use Spybot effectively. It's definitely not for the computer illiterate. If you have time, you can always read the readme files or the Spybot forums and gradually work your way through it. But if you're in a hurry or just not very good with computers, you probably need a faster and easier solution.

3. Paid Solutions

Everyone likes a freebie and I'm no exception. Many times freebies offer the only solution for the messed up spyware invading your system. Free solutions are usually offered by individuals or small groups (2-3 people)  that have made it a personal goal to keep spyware at bay. Spybot is one of those programs.

The only thing about free solutions is that you have to ask yourself one important question. If a software program is free, how can you be sure that the people that make and update the software have all the resources they need to do the best job of cleaning and protecting your computer system against these dangerous threats?

New threats arise every day by the dozens and staying on top of them is a full time undertaking. The people that provide the free solutions are doing a fine job, but do they have enough manpower to be effective against the daily onslaught of new enemies? We all have to eat, so how do they spend their time when they're not working on spyware solutions? Will they still be there tomorrow to provide protection if they make little or no money doing it?

Clearly, to be really effective, we need to not only clean up our current spyware mess but we also need to do our best to protect ourselves from future infection. The best people to do that in my opinion, are the people who are paid to do the job. It's the only way to be sure that adequate resources are made available to meet the massive challenge of properly updating the spyware/malware database to make sure it's able to protects us against future threats.

LavaSoft offers a good paid solution called Ad-Aware Pro and it's reasonably priced. It's a well known solution with a good reputation. It's the upgrade of their free offering and offers enhancements to improve protection of your system.

Final Note:

If you try the software mentioned above and still can't get rid of your problems, you may need the solution that I personally used to help me remove the spyware infection I mentioned earlier. Of all the software I tried to remove the problems from my system (both free and paid), this was the only one that was able to identify ALL the spyware, ad-ware and trojans on my system and remove them. Once I used it to clean my system, my problems disappeared and have not returned since. This may or may not work for you like it did for me but if you still have any doubts that all your problems have been resolved, visit this site and try the free scan. It can't hurt to get a second opinion when it comes to these nasty pests that are so difficult to detect and erase. Why take a chance that you're still open to abuse of your computer system?

My personal method of dealing with spyware these days is actually is 2 pronged. I use my primary spyware remover and then back it up with an Ad-Aware scan just to be sure they both agree that my system is clean. It's slightly more expensive but this method gives me maximum protection and peace of mind. If you've ever had a bad spyware infection, you'll understand just how important that is.