How to Recognize It and Better Protect Yourself

What is Spyware?

Spyware is software that has been installed on your computer without your consent. It is most often used to obtain personal information by monitoring or controlling your computer.

Signs of Spyware

It is important to be aware of the following signs of spyware, although you should note that in some cases there may be none at all.

  • You receive frequent pop-up advertisements.

    If you are constantly receiving pop-up ads, see them as soon as you turn on your computer or see them when you're not even browsing the Internet, you may have spyware on your computer.

  • You are directed to sites other than those you type into the address box.

    Spyware can cause your browser to be hijacked and take you to sites other than those you type into the address box.

  • Your home page or search page settings change.

    Spyware can change your home page or search page settings and even if you try to correct them, the settings will change back every time you restart your computer.

  • Your Web browser has components that you did not download.

    Spyware can add items such as toolbars or icons to your Web browser that will return each time you restart your computer even if you have previously deleted them.

  • Some of the keys on your keyboard stop working.

    Spyware can cause keys on your keyboard to lose function.

  • Your computer is slower than usual.

    If your computer is slower than usual at performing routine tasks you may have spyware. Spyware can also make certain programs on your computer crash or even cause your computer itself to crash.

  • You receive random error messages.

    Receiving random or frequent error messages can be a sign of spyware.

Preventing Spyware

There are several things you can do to decrease the chance of spyware being installed on your computer:

Install anti-virus and firewall software.

  1. Anti-virus software can help protect your computer from computer viruses. It can also help remove known viruses from an infected computer system. Make sure you choose anti-virus software that is up-to-date so that it recognizes current and old viruses.

  2. A personal firewall is a software package that helps you control information that is received and sent from your computer. Make sure to choose a firewall that provides protection for information you receive (incoming) and information you send (outgoing).

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Canada provide security software to their customers for free. Check with your ISP to find out if they have software available for you to install.

  • Update your anti-virus program and personal firewall regularly.

    New computer viruses are found every day. Many software packages allow you to check for viruses and download updates automatically (auto-update). You may be able to find more details on how to update your software in the information available with each software package.

  • Download anti-spyware protection.

    Anti-spyware protection can help protect your computer from spyware and other unwanted software. However, don't click on links in spam or pop-ups that claim to offer anti-spyware; you may be unintentionally installing spyware. Ensure that you only purchase or download software from trusted sources.

  • Update your Web browser regularly.

    Make sure you regularly check for updates to your Web browser. The companies that design Web browsers are always looking for ways to make their software safer in order to protect their customers.

  • Adjust your Web browser's security settings.

    You should be able to adjust your Web browser's security settings to choose a higher level of security.

  • Know what you're installing.

    Always read the security warnings, license agreements and privacy statements of all software before you download. Sometimes unwanted software or spyware is included and is documented in the license agreement or privacy statement. Read all the fine print.

  • Only download from trusted sources.

    Only download programs from websites you trust as many programs from the Internet contain spyware. If you are thinking about downloading a certain program but are not sure if you can trust it, search the name of the program in your search engine to see if it has any spyware reports associated with it.

  • Don't click on links inside pop-ups.

    Never click on the links inside pop-ups and never click "Agree", "OK", "No Thanks" or "Cancel" to close a window. Always click on the "X" in the corner of the window or press <Alt>+<F4> on your keyboard to close a window.

  • Know who is using your computer.

    It is important to know who is using your computer and what they are downloading. Many file sharing practices lead to unwanted spam. If you don't know what others are downloading on your computer, it may be difficult to keep spyware off your computer.

Removing Spyware

Anti-spyware and anti-virus software can help detect spyware, prevent it from being installed on your computer and may remove any spyware if it has been installed. Make sure you purchase or download anti-spyware and anti-virus software from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or other reputable vendors or publishers. Some spyware may run so deep into your computer that you may require a computer technician to remove it.

It is important to research and read reviews about any anti-spyware or anti-virus software you are considering installing. Some software can claim to be an anti-spyware tool when it is in fact spyware, adware or unwanted software.