How to protect your computer from spyware

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Computer running slower than it should? Too many pop-up ads? Surprise! You might have spyware.

Spyware is a type of information-collecting malicious software, and it can compromise your online privacy and safety. Spyware gives authentication credentials and screenshots to people who use the information for identity theft, financial crime or spam, according to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which was established in 2003 to protect the nation’s Internet infrastructure.

Marketing organizations may also use the information for advertising purposes. Don’t risk financial loss and compromise your security. Here's how to remove spyware from your computer:

PC Magazine suggests downloading the latest versions of Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, Microsoft’s Windows Defender or Avira Antivir. One of these programs should find and eliminate spyware on your PC.

Additionally, you can run Process Explorer or Security Task Manager, which can help identify threats. If you have a Mac, Macworld says the way to remove malware is to go into your applications folder and then click on the utilities folder. Launch the activity monitor and select “all processes” from the drop-down menu. Look in the “process name” column for the malware, go to “quit process” on the top left of the activity monitor and select “quit.” Exit the activity monitor, go back to the applications folder and drag the malware app to the trash.

Once you remove the spyware, take precautions to protect your computer. If you have a Mac, make sure you update your software whenever the “Software Update” window pops up. Norton and McAfee have AntiVirus programs for Mac.

Learn to keep an eye out for any strange activity. Do not open suspicious-looking emails from anyone, including people you know and trust. Block popups on your Internet browser. Adjust your settings to block or limit cookies. Check out the US-CERT’s cyber security tip, which can help you evaluate the security of your web browser.

Know what you are getting into when you download anything from a public website or email attachment. Do not trust unknown and high-risk sources and websites, like those with many popups. According to the US-CERT, you should never allow an unfamiliar website to install applications like ActiveX control and browser plug-ins on your computer. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team suggests pressing alt and F4 or closing the browser window instead of answering “no” to the installation request, as this can still install the malware.

Read or at least skim all license or privacy agreements from software you want to download from the Internet. Look for information regarding the vendor’s rights to install other software as well as lengthy or complication agreement explanations. Do not blindly accept all of the options that are selected as the default.

New spyware is always being developed, so make sure you keep your computer’s systems and all applications up to date.