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Just when you thought
you were Web savvy, one more privacy, security,
and functionality issue crops up —
spyware. Installed on your computer without
your consent, spyware software monitors
or controls your computer use. It may be
used to send you pop-up ads, redirect your
computer to websites, monitor your Internet
surfing, or record your keystrokes, which,
in turn, could lead to identity theft.
Many experienced Web users have learned
how to recognize spyware, avoid it, and
delete it. According to officials at the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s
consumer protection agency, all computer
users should get wise to the signs that
spyware has been installed on their machines,
and then take the appropriate steps to delete
The clues that spyware is on a computer
a barrage of pop-up ads
a hijacked browser — that is,
a browser that takes you to sites other
than those you type into the address box
a sudden or repeated change in your
computer’s Internet home page
new and unexpected toolbars
new and unexpected icons on the system
tray at the bottom of your computer screen
keys that don’t work (for example,
the “Tab” key that might not
work when you try to move to the next
field in a Web form)
random error messages
sluggish or downright slow performance
when opening programs or saving files
The good news is that
consumers can prevent spyware installation.
Indeed, experts at the FTC and across the
technology industry suggest that you:
Update your operating system
and Web browser software. Your
operating system (like Windows or Linux)
may offer free software “patches”
to close holes in the system that spyware
Download free software only
from sites you know and trust.
It can be appealing to download free software
like games, peer-to-peer file-sharing
programs, customized toolbars, or other
programs that may change or customize
the functioning of your computer. Be aware,
however, that some of these free software
applications bundle other software, including
Don’t install any software
without knowing exactly what it is.
Take the time to read the end-user license
agreement (EULA) before downloading any
software. If the EULA is hard to find
— or difficult to understand —
think twice about installing the software.
downloads. Make sure your browser
security setting is high enough to detect
unauthorized downloads, for example, at
least the “Medium” setting
for Internet Explorer. Keep your browser
Don’t click on any links
within pop-up windows. If you
do, you may install spyware on your computer.
Instead, close pop-up windows by clicking
on the “X” icon in the title
Don’t click on links
in spam that claim to offer anti-spyware
software. Some software offered
in spam actually installs spyware.
Install a personal firewall
to stop uninvited users from accessing
your computer. A firewall blocks
unauthorized access to your computer and
will alert you if spyware already on your
computer is sending information out.
If you think your computer
might have spyware on it, experts advise
that you take three steps: Get an anti-spyware
program from a vendor you know and trust.
Set it to scan on a regular basis —
at least once a week — and every time
you start your computer, if possible. And,
delete any software programs the anti-spyware
program detects that you don’t want
on your computer.
For more information about
protecting your computer and your personal
information online, visit www.ftc.gov/infosecurity.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive
and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information
to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free
information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov
or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil
and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.