I.T. Help Desk
Avoiding and Removing Spyware
What is Spyware/Malware?
Spyware and malware are types of malicious computer software that install themselves without your knowledge or consent.
Some varieties capture personal and private data about you from your computer, in some cases even trying to take control of it. Others exist only to show you a huge number of ads. Any information that passes through your computer could be vulnerable, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or your social security number.
Spyware usually tries to keep itself hidden, making it difficult to get rid of. It's also alarmingly easy to download. Often, it will attach itself to some other piece of software (BestFreeBeachScreenSavers.exe) and install alongside it.
Commons symptoms of a Spyware/Malware infection
- Decrease in the computer’s overall speed and functionality
- Programs running slowly, freezing, or crashing
- Lots of annoying pop-up advertisements
- Unwanted redirects of your web browser
- Additional toolbars you did not purposefully install
- Strange icons/programs on your desktop
But I have a Mac. I'm safe, right?
With any platform's rise in popularity come more attacks. Spyware and malware for Mac are starting to appear, and while they are not particularly difficult to remove, this may change. The next Mac malware will likely be more advanced, dangerous, and problematic. Below you will find guides on how to remove MacDefender, the newest form of Mac malware.
- How to avoid or remove MacDefender malware - apple.com
- MacDefender Malware Protection and Removal Guide - tuaw.com
- Removing MacDefender - bleepingcomputer.com
Great. I have spyware. How do I get rid of it?!
There are a number of excellent (and free!) pieces of software to do this.
- MalwareBytes' Anti-Malware
- HiJackThis can do some damage if you don't know what you're doing, so we recommend this for advanced users only.
- Mac users too, have a number of options. Sophos Free Antivirus for Mac is exactly as it sounds. Sophos is low on resource usage, and scans actively in the background for known threats, as well as suspicious activity that might be an unknown threat. All for free. Other popular options include: ClamXav, ESET Cybersecurity.
Make sure you have ONE updated anti-virus program (multiple programs can conflict with each other). If you’re on the Emerson network, you can download a free copy of Symantec Endpoint Protection anti-virus.
If you have trouble scanning, or the software has trouble removing items, try the scan in Safe Mode (that way, only essential programs will run, i.e., not viruses). Just tap the F8 key as the computer boots up and select "Safe Mode" when prompted.
How can I prevent this from happening again?
Now that you've got the spyware removed, the most important thing is to not get it again!
- Be thoughtful and careful about downloading files from the Internet.
- While tempting, pirating software is not only illegal. It's also one of the easiest and most effective ways of getting a terrible case of spyware.
- As with most other situations, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't be fooled!
- Ignore pop-ups and close them immediately. If a nondescript window pops up and tells you your computer is infected with 481 viruses, and it can clean them for only $39.99....it's lying.
- Many pop-ups also appear to be genuine Windows notifications. Read them carefully and you'll find clues as to their authenticity, like misspellings, or slightly incorrect language use. Lavasoft has a helpful gallery highlighting malware that appears to be genuine, dubbed Rogue software.
- Install updates. Updates have a bad habit of interrupting us when we're busy, asking us to update. But they're important, and will help protect your computer.
- Earlier versions of Internet Explorer were fairly insecure and let a lot of spyware attacks through. Version 9 is much improved, so you don't necessarily need to stop using Internet Explorer. That said, many people prefer the added features and stronger security typically offered by other browsers. Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari are safe and secure browsers, with built-in pop-up blockers and most have extensive plugin architectures to customize the browser as you like.
- Run your spyware scanner of choice regularly, just to be safe. And keep it updated.