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ARCHIVED: What is spyware or adware, and how can I remove it?

What it is

Spyware includes any data collection program that secretly gathers information about you and relays it to advertisers and other interested parties. Adware usually displays banners or unwanted pop-up windows. In many cases, unwanted programs of this sort do both functions.

You can unknowingly install spyware when you install new software, most commonly freeware or shareware P2P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing programs. Many of these programs are designed to track your Internet browsing habits, such as frequented sites and favorite downloads, and then provide advertising companies with marketing data.

Some spyware programs can adversely affect your computer's performance, and may prevent you from accessing secure services at Indiana University, including Oncourse, IU Webmail, CAS, and OneStart.

How to remove it

Unfortunately, you cannot fully remove most spyware and adware programs by using the uninstall option in the Windows Add or Remove Programs control panel. To completely remove spyware from your Windows computer, UITS recommends using Windows Defender. Also, many antivirus products, such as Symantec AntiVirus (SAV) or Symantec Endpoint Protection (SEP), can scan for and remove spyware and adware. For help, see ARCHIVED: How can SAV for Windows scan for spyware and adware, as well as for viruses?

How to avoid it

Follow these strategies to avoid spyware and adware:

  • Keep your protective programs up to date. Windows Defender, Symantec Endpoint Protection, or other applications distributed outside of IU will detect only the bad software they know about, so update the software's virus files weekly. Most protective software can be configured to check for updates automatically, saving you the trouble of remembering to do it.

  • Allow the auto-protection feature of these programs to run. This can stop most malware infections before they take root. Although having antivirus and antispyware programs running in the background uses up memory and CPU cycles, this small (sometimes unnoticeable) loss is well worth the protection you receive. It's better to keep an infection from happening than to allow the damage and be forced to clean it up afterwards.

  • Do not run programs as an administrative user. Most programs that run in Windows do so in the "user context", or with the permissions that you as the logged-in user have. Often, if you run a program as an administrator, any malicious programs that execute also run as an administrator. If, however, you run as a non-administrator, most spyware and adware installers will be similarly restricted and will do less damage; see What is the principle of least privilege?

  • Reduce your use of cookies. Cookies, in and of themselves, are not harmful, and in many cases are necessary to view and use a web site properly. However, since they contain information, malicious programmers could find a way to misuse them; you should therefore limit the transfer of cookies to and from reputable, trusted sites. For more, see:


  • Avoid clicking links in advertisements.

  • Avoid clicking unsolicited links in instant messaging (IM) software, even if they appear to be from people you know. Some malicious programs propagate by launching an instant messaging program and sending links to people in the buddy list. If you are on someone's buddy list and get an unsolicited link, verify with the sender that the link was sent intentionally. For more, see ARCHIVED: If I use instant messaging software, how can I keep my computer secure?
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Last modified on January 07, 2013.

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