Spyware and other types of malware are more than just a pain in the neck – they can cause other programs to malfunction and even make your computer unstable. And of course there’s all the privacy issues that go along with it.

This type of software is often installed without a user’s consent and often can’t be uninstalled without special tools. When distributors use tricks and deception to install uninvited software, trust is destroyed.

Your first line of defense is common sense. Be careful when you install new software. Only install software from trusted websites, and always read the license agreement. Some companies disclose that they install extra things with their software, but most people don’t read the license and never know it.

Check for a guarantee that the software is spyware free. This won’t protect you 100%, but it is a good step towards being able to trust a website.

What are the signs of a spyware infection? Odd pop-up advertising, a new homepage when you didn’t change it, new toolbars that you didn’t install or your computer is responding slowly or rebooting randomly all of a sudden, to name a few.

If you find your system bogged down with spyware, don’t give up hope. There are several utilities specifically designed for removing spyware from your computer. They rely on frequently updated databases which contain signature files of all known spyware and adware. They scan all the files on your hard drive and alert you if ‘uninvited guests’ are found.

Some of these scanning programs are available for free, while others will cost you money. The ones you pay for generally have extra features, such as the ability to schedule automatic scans. They’re never completely foolproof however, so it’s always a good idea to run two or more of them.

Some types of spyware are exceptionally hard to get rid of. They can make changes to settings on your computer that help to “protect” the spyware from being removed. In some cases, you need to manually delete the files to get rid of them for sure.

This is obviously not something you should undertake unless you’re quite familiar with Windows and working with system files. You wouldn’t want to delete something that renders Windows inoperable.

Once the spyware has been removed from your system, you should run scans on a regular basis to keep it clean. Whether you do this manually or use a program that does it automatically on a schedule is up to you (and your pocketbook).

Of course, you need to always be wary of anything you download. You never know when there is going to be a significant cost to that free software that looks so cool.

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Spyware and other types of malware are more than just a pain in the neck - they can cause other programs to malfunction and even make your computer unstable. And of course there's all the privacy issues that go along with it.This type of software is often installed without...