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Tools to Identify Spyware

If you believe you have been infected with some sort of adware or spyware, there are several ways to identify the culprit. It is usually easier to identify adware, because it is less harmful than spyware, and may come from legitimate companies.

The Google Toolbar has been accused of being spyware, because it includes a Page Rank feature, that tells Google where people are surfing on the Web. Ironically, the Google Toolbar offers pop-up blocking, preventing unwanted ads. The Page Rank feature on the Google Toolbar can be disabled, if you prefer not to send any information.

Most browser toolbars, like the Google Toolbar and the eBay Toolbar, are technically spyware, but they are also useful for many users.

Instant Messaging adware:
There is an application called "Buddylinks", that sends commercial messages via AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM). The messages appear to be a recommendation from an AIM user, encouraging contacts to visit a Web page to download a video game. This way, the program propagates, sending recommendations disguised as a contact. The company argues that the user accepts these messages explicitly, clicking in "agree" when installing the program.

Research Before You Download:
Spyware often is included with freeware and shareware, so it is advisable to research about programs before you install them. A simple search in Google, or checking sites dedicated to spyware can alert you about any problems people have reported with software.

Sites to research Spyware:
There are several databases online tracking spyware and adware, providing information about the possible impact they can have in his computer.

* Spywareguide.com - http://www.spyware.com

Locating parasites on your PC:
Some annoying programs can be found on a PC without much effort, just with a basic knowledge from where Windows keeps programs. The truly bad spyware programs make it much more difficult, because they do everything possible to avoid being removed.

Your ought to check first in the Add/Remove Programs section of your Windows Control Panel. You should also check the Windows Start-Up Folder (C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu) to see if any programs have been added. If you are not sure about a program, check it in the spyware databases.

Your computer registry also can give information about spyware infections. However, it is not recommended that inexperienced users tinker with the registry.

Removing Spyware and Adware from Your Computer:
One of the first things you should do if you find a Trojan or spyware on your computer is disconnect it from the Internet. It is also recommendable to disconnect network and modem cables from your computer, to avoid that the program connects by itself.

Spyware and Adware Scanning Software:
The easiest way to find and remove spyware and adware is with scanning software. Anti-spyware software is different than anti-virus software, although some anti-virus packages will detect some known spyware programs. Fortunately, there is some good anti-spyware software free.

Anti-spyware software works in much the same way as anti-virus software. It scans your computer's hard drive and looks for files associated with known spyware and adware programs. After the scan, the program usually shows the potential problems, and allows the user to decide what should be removed.

Like anti-virus software, anti-spyware software relies on databases of known rogue programs that must be updated. Make sure to update often your anti-spyware software, so you are always protected against the newest parasites.

The best-known anti-spyware programs are:

* SpyBot S&D - http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html

* Ad-aware - http://www.lavasoftusa.com/


Remove pests manually:
In the Add/Remove Programs section at Windows Control Panel, you can remove some quasi-legitimate adware programs. However, the most malicious pests never include a simple way to be removed.

There is a fairly complete list of adware programs, what they do, and how to manually remove them (if possible) at http://doxdesk.com/parasite/

In our next article we will talk about preventive measures to avoid getting infected by these parasites.

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