A: Some forms of spyware monitor a targets Web use or even general computer use and send this information back to the spyware programs authors for use as they see fit. To fight this kind of problem, a spyware removal tool is obviously helpful, as is a firewall that monitors outgoing connections from your computer. Other forms of spyware take over parts of your Web browsing interface, forcing you to use their own search engines, where they can track your browsing habits and send pop-up advertisements to you at will.
The biggest concern regarding spyware is that most spyware is poorly written or designed. Many people first realize their computer is running spyware when it noticeably slows down or stops responding, especially when performing certain tasks such as browsing Web sites or retrieving e-mail. In addition, poorly written spyware can often cause your computer to function incorrectly even after it has been removed.
Q: Malware has completely taken over my PC and I cannot do anything to fix it. What is the best next step?
A: You used to be able to clean up most malware infections using various kinds of specialized antivirus and antimalware software. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Once upon a time, malware was written by amateurs and teenagers. But now, many very skilled programmers work on malware, because it is now a money-making business. Malware has become so insidious that it is often impossible to remove without expert or professional help.
You should first attempt to remove an infection with automated tools. If that fails (and most likely it will), there are two classes of antimalware software that you should use. The first is traditional antivirus software, which is very good at handling viruses and worms and not so great at handling newer styles of malware. The other kind of software is antispyware software, which is good at the newer sort of malware but not so good at the old kind. When attempting to clean up an infected system, you should run at least one of each.
If you were running antivirus software when you became infected, you should see whether it was keeping itself up-to-date, or try running a different program. Proven antivirus software companies include Symantec (a.k.a. Norton), McAfee, Panda Software, Trend Micro, F-Secure, Eset (maker of NOD32), and Kaspersky Labs. Many of these companies have free Web-based scanners (ironically based on ActiveX) or downloadable tryout versions.
Antispyware software is a little more difficult. The various antivirus companies have been in business a long time, but antispyware is a new kind of software that was born at the same time as the modern age of malware. Therefore, many antispyware software companies are either incompetent or outright frauds.
Its been discovered that malware is very quickly outgrowing the capability for automated software to clean it. The automated tools you try may not work, even if you try multiple ones. Therefore, you will probably end up having to get help. Many local computer repair companies can clean infected computers. You may know an expert who is willing to help you. Sometimes the experts will tell you that the best or only way to take care of a really bad infection is to back up your personal data, clean out the computer completely, and start from scratch. They are not lying. Attempting to eradicate an infection by hand can be extremely time-consuming and is often unsuccessful, even for experts.
Q: Do I need additional antimalware and spyware tools, now that Vista and Internet Explorer are supposedly more secure and provide them?
A: With Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7, you are definitely more secure than you were using older versions of the OS and Web browser. The fact is that you now get these applications with the base OS instead of having to pay for or download a third-party vendors utility. Vista does not come with antivirus software, so you will need to acquire that separately. What Vista does have is a built-in spyware tool that helps prevent some malware exploits from taking place. Vista also has a built-in host-based firewall. Make sure that you add antivirus software for full protection.