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5 Rules for Busting Spyware

If the speed of your computer isn’t what it used to be, it’s likely that spyware is slowing it down.

Spyware is a program that sits on your computer and records your activity. Unlike a virus, spyware wants you to go about your business as it records your every move without your permission. Spyware lands on your hard drive by piggybacking on programs you actually wanted to download.

Spyware is probably slowing down – or even crashing – your computer through serving you ads. The program watches your likes and dislikes before sending a popup or redirecting your web surfing to a site of its choice. Some forms of spyware can monitor your keystrokes looking for passwords and credit card information, and even modify your system settings.

A recent AOL study showed that a whopping 91 percent of users had spyware on their computer, while only 41 percent had taken steps to remove it. This means half of all computer users have computers that are not up to speed, even if they run virus and spam protection.

It’s time to fight back.

Rule #1 – Clean your computer
Fight fire with fire. There are plenty of free, legit programs to help rid your computer of its newfound spyware problem. Two of the best are Spybot Search & Destroy (www.safer-networking.org) and Lavasoft Ad-aware (www.lavasoftusa.com).

Both of these programs are free and will clean your computer of unwanted spyware. Spybot features automatic updates to ensure it can identify new forms of spyware, but can be tougher to use. Lavasoft doesn’t feature auto updates, but its clean, easy-to-use interface makes it the better choice for less-experienced users.

Rule #2 – Tighten your computer security
Using recent browsers and tweaking the security settings can help defend against spyware installing an unsolicited program without your permission. If you use Internet Explorer, set the security settings to medium or higher (Tools > Internet Options > Security). Windows XP users should also update to Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Rule #3 – Watch what you download
Spyware is attractive to advertisers because it is easy and cheap to attach small programs to software that a user is already interested in downloading, complete with a fully customized message. This makes them especially attractive to disreputable fly-by-night companies. For casinos players, look for operators who use reputable, proven software like The Sands of the Caribbean (www.carsands.com). They proudly display the safety of their software and its lack of spyware.

Movie and music file-sharing programs like Kazaa, Morpheus and Audio Galaxy are rife with spyware. A quick download of Kazaa reveals spyware programs Cydoor Desktop Media and Gator eWallet. Other common sources of spyware include Alexa, Hotbar, Comet Cursor, eWallet, CuteFTP, BonziBuddy, DoubleClick and Web 3000.

Rule #4 – Check license agreements
While spyware is sneaky, it is not necessary illegal. Only one jurisdiction in North America has attempted to regulate spyware by law (Utah, U.S.A.). The legality of spyware is still murky, and, for the time being, the best protection is self-protection.

When installing software, try your best to review the license agreement. If it contains practices that sound questionable or if it mentions that it “reserves the right to sell or distribute your personal information for marketing purposes,” cancel the installation.

Rule #5 – Take a stand
If you suspect a program has infected your computer with spyware, don’t simply remove the spyware; remove the offending program as well. Make sure those who peddle spyware know that compromising the performance of your personal property while spying on your activities is not something you tolerate.

Of course, never click ads generated by spyware – usually unexpected and in the form of a popup, and never purchase goods or services from a company you suspect has inserted spyware onto your computer.
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