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Spyware and Adware

What is spyware?

  • Spyware is software that is installed on your computer without your permission. It often tags along with free software you have downloaded or comes from "infected" web sites and/or links. The most common source of spyware is file sharing software (Kazaa, Blubster, etc.). Even innocent free programs (e.g. Comet Cursor) will come with spyware. In fact, it is best to assume that if the software is free, it comes with spyware attached.

  • Its purpose is to report your browsing habits (web sites you've visited) to the publisher of the spyware software. They use this information to present you with pop-ups when you are browsing the Web. Sometimes the information gathered is also used to send you spam.

  • Spyware can interfere with your network connection, slow down the performance of your computer and prevent legitimate software (such as Internet Explorer) from working properly.

How is spyware different from adware?

  • Spyware and Adware are essentially the same thing. The primary difference is that adware is used to pop-up ads that are meant to be meaningful to you, whereas spyware may pop-up ads that are offensive or have nothing to do with your interests. Both are annoying and can overwhelm your browser with pop-ups. Adware typically does not insert itself into your computer operating system as thoroughly as spyware.

Are cookies considered spyware?

  • Cookies are used in a manner similar to adware and spyware. They report information about you back to the publisher of the cookie. Many, many web sites use cookies. Respectable sites, such as, use cookies responsibly. They only store information directly related to the use of their web pages. For example, it is used to suggest products based on your past purchases. Other sites gather more information than they should. Cookies can safely be deleted and are usually recreated when you revisit the site (sometimes you will have to login to the site before the cookie is reset). Internet Explorer includes a button in its "options" window that allows you to quickly remove all cookies.

How to avoid spyware

  • Do not click on banners that appear at the top of web pages even if they look like a fun game, they say you are a winner or they are going to help you correct a potential problem on your computer (your clock is wrong, you have spyware, etc.).

  • Do not download free software. If you must use free software, be as selective as possible and only install that which is completely necessary. Use trustworthy web sites.

  • Do not click on AIM or MSN profile links unless you are absolutely certain they are real. Ask your friend if they know the link is there before you click on it.

  • Do not follow links in spam e-mail messages. They often take you to sites that install spyware on your computer.

  • Music/file sharing is illegal. It is also a pipeline to spyware, viruses and hackers. Is it worth it?

How to detect and remove spyware

  • ITS is currently suggesting students use AVG Antivirus for Windows computers. Click here for installation instructions.

  • For Macintosh computers, the ITS recommends iAntivirus or Sophos Home Edition. Click here for installation instructions.

  • Removing spyware may sometimes disable the software with which it came.  In some cases the spyware cannot be removed until the free software it came with is also removed.

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Last updated: September 3, 2021


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