Adware and Spyware
What is 'adware'?
Adware is basically software or scripts that are hidden on your computer, that make advertising show up all over the place. It may be an extra menu in your web browser, icons appearing on your desktop, bookmarks or favourites appearing out of no where, and pop up ads that seem to come from no where!
What is 'spyware'?
Spyware is similar in nature to adware, however I feel its purpose is slightly more sinister. Spyware as the name implies, spies on you. It may record information about your web surfing habits, time you spend online, your e-mail address, and what web sites you frequent. It then takes this information and sends it to various companies for the purpose of adding you to mailing lists and spam.
What should I do?
When you surf or download programs you are most vulnerable to these types of programs. Often adware and spyware applications are hidden inside 'free' software. You install the application and then behind the scenes it installs the spyware or adware. Another common method for people installing applications on your computer is tricking you in to doing it. Sometimes when you surf a website or play a game online they will need you to install an application to proceed. Often a box will appear that asks you for permission to install this application and you clicking 'yes' allows you to continue. However at the same time you just got some adware or spyware installed. The best advice I can give is just read very carefully all messages that pop up on your screen, don't just hit enter or click ok as so many people do.
What do I do if I already have spyware or adware installed?
There are many free applications available on the Internet, however I think that most people would agree that one of the best is 'Ad-aware' by Lavasoft. It is freely available and they update their database files very regularly. In essence, it is a virus scanner, which only looks for adware and spyware. Once it finds some it will prompt you and ask you what course of action you would like to do.