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What is spyware?

Over the past few years, a new class of software has emerged that's up to no good. It goes by many names: spyware, adware, foistware, malware, eulaware, or even crapware. For simplicity we'll just call them all spyware. Here are some of the "features" you get from spyware. Some spyware may only use one or two of these tactics, while others do quite a bit more.

  • Deceptive functionality. Spyware often uses a classic "trojan horse" tactic--like a virus. It offers to synchronize your PC's clock or keep track of forms, but it is also doing other hidden things while you browse.
  • Home page hijacking. Did you ever find that your home page was changed, or discover new sites in Favorites that you didn't add? It might be spyware.
  • Loss of privacy. Some spyware keeps track of the web sites you visit and sends that information back to the spyware vendor. Do you want to tell everyone?
  • More advertising. Did you install a popup stopper but you are still getting popups? The ads you are getting may not be from the web site you are on, but from spyware.
  • Stolen advertising. Instead of showing the ads that should appear on a web site, some spyware substitutes its own ads which can rob a web site of revenue.
  • Broken web sites. Spyware sometimes changes the actual content on a web page, and in the process it "breaks" the page. The page may not look correct, or you may get Javascript errors.
  • Reduced performance. Spyware uses up system resources, CPU time, memory, disk space, and Internet bandwidth, making your system slower.
  • System instability. Most spyware isn't very well tested or debugged, and there is no way to report bugs or obtain tech support. The result can be system crashes, hangs, or other strange behavior.
  • Security risks. Some spyware has a built-in update feature that lets the spyware maker download and install new code to your system without your knowledge or approval.

Why don't most antivirus utilities block spyware?

The short answer is "spyware is not a virus." Webopedia defines a virus as "A program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes." Spyware takes advantage of the fact that people click I Agree to most software licenses without actually reading them. So technically, spyware is loaded with your knowledge and permission if you read the license, so it's not a virus. Of course, if your teenager uses the computer and installs spyware without your permission, that's your problem too. Here are some examples of spyware tricks.

This tricky use of software agreements puts the antivirus companies in a tough situation. It is possible that you really did agree for some of this software to be on your system. If antivirus utilities flag these borderline programs as viruses and remove them, the antivirus companies could find themselves in a legal battle with spyware makers who claim they were given permission to install.

How do I get rid of spyware?

You can either remove each program manually, or use a utility to automatically remove all spyware. For the automatic route we recommend PC Pitstop Exterminate.

To use a manual removal method, you first need to determine what types of spyware have infested your system. Our quick scan can find some of the most common spyware (but see below for an important note). Each piece of spyware requires different removal procedures. Sometimes the spyware maker has an uninstaller at their site, but usually there will be some additional steps required before you have completely eliminated it. (This can include editing the Windows registry and/or deleting files, so it is not something that we recommend for novice users!) In some cases we provide links to manual removal procedures in your spyware scan results. If not, you can ask in the Spyware section of the PC Pitstop Forums or use Google to search for removal instructions using the name of the spyware.

Please note: Although our online spyware scan will find the most common types of spyware, it's not meant to be a replacement for a commercial product to defend you against spyware and viruses. We've kept this test small and simple so that we can quickly find the most common spyware threats. If our scan detects several different types of spyware on your system, it's possible that there is even more spyware that we did not detect.

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