Beware Of Spyware – Steps To Take To Protect Your Computer

Spyware refers to malicious software that takes partial control of a computer’s operation through unauthorized access without the computers owners’ knowledge or consent, and has become one of the biggest security threats to computer users today.

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Spyware exploits infected computers for commercial gain, usually by including unsolicited pop-up advertisements; by monitoring the users’ online activities; by routing http requests to advertising sites; or by stealing personal information such as financial information. In fact, it is estimated that identity-thieves have stolen over US$ 24 billion worth of account information in the United States alone.

Spyware most often infects a computer by piggybacking on a desirable software and the user unknowingly downloading and installing it. Spyware also often lurks in rogue anti-spyware programs that pretend to be security software. Spyware also comes bundled with shareware or other downloadable software and music CDs.

Yet another method of distributing spyware involves tricking computer users by manipulating security features designed to prevent unwanted installations. For example, surfers using the Internet Explorer web browser may unwittingly click on a command prompt that appears to be a Windows dialog box, when in actual fact it initiates the spyware download.

With the spyware threat worsening, several anti-spyware programs have emerged that are designed to counteract or remove spyware. Programs such as Ad-Aware SE and Spybot – Search & Destroy are some of the more popular and effective tools to remove and intercept spyware programs. Microsoft has also released Windows AntiSpyware to combat the spyware problem. Other popular anti-spyware programs include Spy Sweeper, Spyware Doctor, XoftSpy, and CounterSpy.

Anti-virus firms Symantec, McAfee and Sophos, while reluctant initially to add anti-spyware features to their anti-virus products, have finally added anti-spyware features to the recent versions of their anti-virus products.

Computer users have also become savvier in detecting spyware. Many users now install a web browser other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), such as Opera or Mozilla Firefox which are not as vulnerable as IE is to spyware – though that is not to say that Opera and Firefox have not suffered from similar security vulnerabilities. No one single browser is 100% safe, as “security” all depends on the person using the browser.

Some internet service providers, especially colleges and universities, block spyware by using their network firewalls and web proxies to block access to Web sites known to install spyware.

Spyware sometimes hide in shareware programs offered for download, so downloading programs only from reputable sources provides some protection from this source of attack.

Better Computer Performance – 9 Free Or Inexpensive Fixes

Poor computer performance by your Windows-based machine can sneak up on you gradually. You may find its performance deteriorating increasingly until one day you realize you must fix it or buy a new one. Signs of poor performance can include applications running very slowly, programs closing or freezing up suddenly, and a generally slower response time to OS (operating system)-related commands. I have compiled 9 fixes for you here that you can leverage right now to greatly improve your computer’s performance.

Fix #1: Download and run MS Pack 2:

Every operating system requires patches and upgrades by its maker from time-to-time, with Microsoft XP being no exception. While Pack 2 was released in 2002, some people with older systems are still not running it: make sure your computer is. You can download it FREE from Microsoft’s Web site.

Fix #2: Run the Disk Cleanup utility:

Your computer likely has a number of unused and unneeded files that take up valuable space on your hard drive and slow performance. Run your FREE, built-in Disk Cleanup utility to automatically remove these files. Find it by going to: Start | Programs | Accessories | System | Disk Cleanup and following the prompts.

Fix #3: Defragment your hard drive:

Over time, your computer will store files in an increasingly inefficient manner on your hard drive, affecting file retrieval times and other performance factors. To fix this, you need to defragment your hard disk drive. To do this for FREE, just go to: Start | Programs | Accessories | System | Disk Defragmenter. First, highlight the drive you want to clean up (e.g., C drive) and choose Analyze. Once complete, choose Defragment. Note that the defragmentation process could take up to an hour or more, so do this during a time when you can step away from your computer.

Fix #4: Run an anti-virus tool:

Computer viruses are malicious programs that drastically affect your computer’s performance, either all at once or insidiously over time. You can stop a virus attack by installing and running anti-virus software which performs regular scans, locates the offending viruses and quarantines them.

Fix #5: Clean your registry:

Your computer’s registry is a tool that most non-computer specialists never see but which is vitally important to computer operations. Your registry stores settings and options for your hardware, operating system, and other software. Unfortunately, given its fundamental role in the performance of your system, your registry is often the target of attack or infection. To thoroughly and automatically clean your registry, run a regular registry scan using a registry cleaning tool. I recommend RegCure, which recently found 1,626 problems with my registry (ugh!), is cheap and easy to use.

Fix #6: Run anti-spyware software:

Spyware is computer software that installs itself in your computer and performs a number of unwanted functions, including monitoring your computer usage and interfere with your control.

It represents a real threat and has become a significant problem in recent years. Fortunately, fixes are easy to find and include a number of free and inexpensive anti-spyware programs. Try SpyBot Search & Destroy. Get it FREE online.

Fix #7: Increase your computer’s memory:

Today’s applications require more and more memory (RAM) to run. If your computer is more than two years old or if you selected the minimal memory upon purchase, you might benefit from adding another 1 GB or more to your computer. Check online or at your local computer dealer for pricing.

Fix #8: Clean your hard drive:

More comprehensive than the Disk Utility tool introduced above, cleaning your hard drive with professional cleaning software is a great way to improve performance. Try CCleaner for FREE by doing an online search.

Fix #9: As a last resort, re-format your hard drive:

If after trying all of the above items and your computer still performs poorly, a last resort is to completely reformat your hard drive. Warning: proceed with caution since this action will erase your entire hard drive, including your operating system (OS)! If you decide to take this route, consult an online tutorial for how-to steps. At minimum, remember two things: be sure to back up all of your files and applications and retain a copy of your OS on CD so that you can re-install it later.