Recently, I have been called upon by many peers, co-workers, and friends to fix their "broken" computers. I hear things like its slow, its doesn't work, "x" brand sux. However and especially of late, the problem is spyware. Have a million pop-ups or pop-under ads while web surfing? Some search page overtaking your browser, Internet Explorer? You are infected with spyware.
Spyware Defined: Silent background use of an Internet "backchannel" connection MUST BE PRECEDED by a complete and truthful disclosure of proposed backchannel usage, followed by the receipt of explicit, informed, consent for such use. Any software communicating across the Internet absent of these elements is guilty of information theft and is properly and rightfully termed: Spyware
Unknown to most people, especially computer savy but ignorant teens and young adults, they are allowing this software to infiltrate their PC's. It is happening at work, home, and school! In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to discuss a few sources of spyware (and/or adware).
The first and most plaguing entrance of spyware to your computer is Kazaa and other P2P, music DL software. Kazaa installs several annoying and resource hogging spyware and adware components. These components spy and report to their makers your surfing habits to target those annoying pop-up adds to you. Some of the included spyware are tools of the name P2P networking, BDE projector, and others.
The next spyware issue is not a specific program but a class of program. Internet Explorer "search toolbar" add-ins. These are often marketed with "cool" features of graphical add-ons and claims of the best search results. However, they often completely overtake your web browsers settings and lock you in to what THEY want you to see. On major offender is the CoolWebSearch bar. CWS for short. They force themselves to always be your start page, prevent you from visiting Microsoft's windowsupdate AND inundate you with Pop-Ups. WORSE! they often tell you you have spyware and offer removal tools that are also spyware tools themselves!!!
So what can YOU do about spyware to remove and protect yourself. Well there are a few options. To start, ALWAYS have a good anti-virus software installd and updated on you PC. An extremely effective and FREE anti-virus software is AVG Anti-Virus. You can read more at: http://www.grisoft.com/us/us_index.php.
If you need the comfort of spending money on an anti-virus solution I suggest Norton Antivirus, McAfee Antivirus, or Trend Micro antivirus. Find them at http://www.symantec.com/ http://www.mcafee.com/ and http://www.trendmicro.com/ respectively.
The next protection you should have, especially if you have a broadband connection to the internet such as a cable modem or DSL, is a firewall. A firewall performs a function similar to its name. It insulates your computer from the whole of internet connectivity. There are many levels of firewalls but I will provide guidance for the home and school user here. If you have Microsoft Windows XP, you already have access to a built-in firewall. Visit http://v5.windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ and install Service Pack 2 to enable it. If you have an older version of windows, I suggest a software firewall such as Zone Labs ZoneAlarm or Norton Internet Security. Check out http://www.zonelabs.com/ and http://www.symantec.com/.
This is all great, but what if you are already infected with spyware. Then you need a spyware removal tool. Leaders in spyware removal offer a version free for home users. Ad-aware from http://www.lavasoft.de/ and Spybot - Search and Destroy from http://security.kolla.de/ are your best bets. Download, install, update and scan.
There are several very persistent spyware programs out there, coolwebsearch is one described as a browser hijacker. The best bet is to use Google to search for methods of removal.