Antispyware falls into the same category as antimalware does. Before the proliferation of this type of code across the Internet, a distinction was made between the two types of programs. However, in recent years, these antispyware and antimalware programs have morphed into the same program. Usually you can eliminate spyware using freeware antimalware tools or antivirus scanners. Some specialty tools list themselves as spyware removal tools, but they also help eradicate malware.
It may be more accurate to call spyware adware or nuisance software. Although some of these offending programs do actually send user data across the Web, they usually do not have a malicious intent against the user. They typically use the data to advertise goods or services to the user by scanning the user's computer for patterns of behavior on browser use. Windows Defender, which is included with Windows 7, will find most types of spyware programs on your computer.
For many in the industry, spyware programs were both a wake-up call and the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Many companies in the security business underestimated the threat posed by spyware and were not ready to combat the unique problems it created. This left many people running McAfee, Norton, and other security products without real protection against spyware, until recently. Not only did this leave many longtime users of these security products outraged, but it also created a backlash that was heard throughout the security industry. Why did this occur? Well, most of the security products—even those sold as total security shields—protected your computer from viruses, hackers, abuse, and sometimes even spam, but they did not protect your computer from spyware. In fact, only the 2007 and later editions of the McAfee and Norton security products truly protect you from spyware as well as all the other bad things out there on the Internet.
The backlash created by consumer outrage did have some positive effects, though. As ISPs noticed that people were increasingly canceling their memberships because their computers simply could not be made safe on the Internet, many began offering free security solutions. At the time of this writing, two of the largest ISPs in the United States—Comcast and AOL—provide McAfee security products free to subscribers. Comcast subscribers get a free subscription to McAfee VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus, Privacy Service, and SpamKiller. AOL included McAfee VirusScan and Personal Firewall Plus in the AOL Safety and Security Center, and also offers spyware protection, phishing protection, and spam protection.
You should note that not all antispyware programs work as advertised. Some of these programs disguise themselves as removal tools, but in fact they install and advertise themselves for use to remote users for malicious intent, or they install advertisement programs onto the computers themselves. Take the time to research any product before you install it on your computer. All reputable programs have websites explaining the use and purpose of their programs, and should have reviews on reputable websites and publications.
Most of the tools available require you to go online to update their databases of known spyware to aid in the removal of these programs. As with any tool you use to remove unwanted programs, take the time to either update it regularly or allow it to connect and retrieve its updates automatically. Most of these programs have a mechanism built in to allow this type of automation and allow the user to go on without the effort to check them as frequently. This does not mean you should set it and forget it. You still need to take the time to verify that they are updating correctly, because from time to time they may not work as advertised.
As with malware, you may occasionally have to hand-edit the registry to remove some types of spyware. If you require this type of intervention, please take great care when editing your computer's registry. Editing the registry can render a computer unusable and require the intervention of a recovery service or large amounts of time to correct. If you are not comfortable editing the registry, consult a computer service or repair shop to remove these types of malicious programs. Most computer service companies can remove such programs within a short period and require only a small fee to clean your computer. This can help immensely when the programs are embedded into the computer or have metamorphic qualities.
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