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Spyware/Adware

What is Spyware (or Adware)?

Spyware (or Adware) is a general term used for software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising, collecting personal information, or changing the configuration of your computer without appropriately obtaining your consent.

Spyware is software that tracks personal or sensitive information, and it is often associated with software that displays advertisements, called adware. That does not mean all software which provides ads or tracks your online activities is bad. For example, you might sign up for a free music service, but "pay" for the service by agreeing to receive targeted ads. If you understand the terms and agree to them, you may have decided that it is a fair tradeoff. You might also agree to let the company track your online activities to determine which ads to show you.

Other times unwanted software, which you did not knowingly install, will make changes to your computer that can be annoying and can cause your computer slow down or crash. These programs have the ability to change your Web browser's home page or search page, or add additional components to your browser you don't need or want. These programs also make it very difficult for you to change your settings back to the way you originally had them. These types of unwanted programs are often referred to as spyware. The key in all cases is whether or not you (or someone who uses your computer) understood what the software would do and agreed to install the software on your computer.

There are a number of ways spyware or other unwanted software can get on your system. A common trick is to covertly install the software during the installation of other software you want, such as a music or video file sharing program. Whenever you are installing something on your computer, make sure you carefully read all disclosures, including the license agreement and privacy statement. Sometimes the inclusion of unwanted software in a given software installation is documented, but it may appear at the end of a license agreement or privacy statement.

Signs of Spyware:

If your computer starts to behave strangely or displays any of the symptoms listed below, you may have spyware/adware installed on your computer.

  • I see pop-up advertisements all the time. Some unwanted software will bombard you with pop-up ads that aren't related to a particular Web site you're visiting. These ads are often for adult or other Web sites you may find objectionable. If you see pop-up ads as soon as you turn on your computer or when you're not even browsing the Web, you probably have spyware/adware.
  • My settings have changed and I can't change them back to the way they were. Some unwanted software has the ability to change your home page or search page settings. This means that the page that opens first when you start your Internet browser or the page that appears when you select "search" may be pages that you do not recognize. Even if you know how to adjust these settings, you may find that they revert back every time you restart your computer.
  • My Web browser contains additional components that I don't remember downloading. Spyware/adware can add additional toolbars to your Web browser that you don't want or need. Even if you know how to remove these toolbars, they may return each time you restart your computer.
  • My computer seems sluggish. Spyware and other unwanted software are not necessarily designed to be efficient. The resources these programs use to track your activities and deliver advertisements can slow down your computer and errors in the software can make your computer crash. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of times a certain program crashes, or if your computer is slower than normal at performing routine tasks, you may have spyware/adware.

So, how you can get rid of spyware?

Check our Anti-Spyware section.

Tips for avoiding Spyware installation are available on our Procedures to Follow page.

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This page was designed as a project for LIS5362, Design and Production of Network Multimedia, a class at the Florida State University School of Information Studies. Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved. Last Updated: Nov 2004.