How can I avoid spyware?

Spyware is the term used to describe applications that run on your computer that can track you online, profile you, and/or record your keystrokes.  To avoid spyware, follow these guidelines:

1. Make sure to run an antispyware application.  Perform on-demand scans regularly to root out spyware that slips through the cracks.  Reboot after removal and rescan to make sure not ticklers, which are designed to reinstall spyware, have resurrected any deleted apps.  Additionally, even though we are not overly-impressed with any app's real-time blocking abilities, activate whatever your app of choice offers; it's nearly always better than nothing.

2. Give your antispyware some backup.  In addition to an antispyware app, make sure to run both software and hardware firewalls and antivirus applications to protect yourself against Trojan horses (and viruses, naturally).

3. Beware of peer-to-peer ("P2P") file sharing services.  Many of the most popular applications include spyware in their installation procedures.  Also, never download any executables via P2P, because you can't be absolutely certain what they are.  Actually, it's a good idea to avoid downloading executables from anywhere but vendors or major, well-checked sites.

4. Watch out for cookies.  While thy may not be the worst form of spyware, information gathered via cookies can sometimes be matched with information gathered elsewhere (via Web bugs, for example) to provide surprisingly detailed profiles of you and your browsing habits.  PC Magazine's own Cookie Cop 2 ( can help you take control of cookies.

5. Squash bugs.  Web bugs are spies that are activated when you open contaminated HTML e-mail.  Get rid of unsolicited e-mail without reading it when you can; turn off the preview pane to delete messages without opening them.  In Outlook 2003, Tools | Options, click on the Security tab and select Change Automatic Download Settings.  Make sure Don't download pictures or other content automatically in HTML e-mail is checked.

6. Don't install anything without knowing exactly what it is.  This means reading the end-user license agreement (EULA) carefully, as some EULAs will actually tell you that if you install the app in question, you've also decided to install some spyware with the software.  Check independent sources as well, as some EULAs won't tell you about spyware.

7. Protect yourself against drive-by donwloads.  Make sure your browser settings are stringent enough to protect you.  In IE, this means your security settings for the Internet Zone should be at least medium  Deny the browser permission to install any ActiveX control you haven't requested.

8. Keep up-to-date on the ever-changing world of spyware.  Knowing the threat will help you defeat it.  There are several great sites you can visit to keep abreast of this issue.  PestPatrol's Research Center ( has one of the most comprehensive lists of spyware and related threats we've seen.  SpywareInfo is another good online source of information.  Finally, PC Magazine's Security Scout utility ( aggregates dozens of security-specific news feeds and brings them right to your desktop.

Source: PC Magazine – March 2, 2004 – Article by Sean Carroll

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