How do I get rid of spyware from my computer?

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Answered by: James, An Expert in the PC Maintenance Category
Has your computer ground to a halt? Do you see advertisements for things you don’t want, on websites that don’t (or shouldn’t) have ads? And does your browser automatically redirect itself to websites you don’t want to visit? In short – does it seem like your computer has a mind of its own?

If so, you might be a victim of spyware. This step-by-step guide will help you get rid of spyware from your computer and free you for good.

First, what is spyware?

Spyware is malicious software that is installed on your computer, sometimes alongside other software. It’s terribly annoying, and can make it seem like you aren’t in control of your own computer. Worse than that, though, some spyware is designed to steal data entered on your computer – websites you visit, and even login information. What this means is that if you’re using an infected computer and log in to online banking, your account might be compromised.

Once you discover you may have spyware, it’s very important that you note any potentially compromised accounts – if you use a browser for your e-mail, for instance, that account might be compromised. Note any of these accounts, along with any that use that exact same password. Even if you didn’t log in to those accounts on your computer, if someone knows your e-mail address and a password you use often, they can try to log in as you on hundreds of sites, which you don’t want.

Next, run an anti-virus scan using your anti-virus software (avast! Is a free-to-use anti-virus software, if you don’t have one already). This will probably not catch everything, but you should come up with a few hits.

After you’ve done that, download and install anti-spyware software. Be careful here, because some spyware masquerades as anti-spyware software! Be sure to read any reviews, but here I would recommend Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. They have a free version that comes with a premium trial, so you can run it, risk-free.

Malwarebytes will get rid of spyware pretty much automatically, but after it finishes, be sure to restart your computer and disconnect your computer from the internet (if there’s a cord, unplug it, if it’s a laptop, turn off wi-fi). This is helpful because spyware only works properly if it can connect to the internet – it’s a lot more helpless if it’s not able to connect to whatever server its transmitting data to.

After you restart your computer, run the anti-spyware software again. You’ll want to do this until your computer comes back clean. So, if you run it a second time and it clears out one or two instances of spyware, restart your computer and run it again. This ensures that it catches absolutely everything!

Once you’ve cleaned off your computer, make sure to change the passwords to any potentially compromised accounts. If you think your bank account may have been compromised, be on the lookout for any potentially fraudulent transactions.

Finally, make sure to practice safe browsing habits. The best fix for spyware is to avoid getting it in the first place. Only click on links you recognize and trust, and when installing software, be sure it is from a reputable source and read the terms of use while installing. Many programs that install spyware cover it up in seemingly-useful browser add-ons and the like, so don’t be fooled!

Be sure to run an anti-spyware and anti-virus scan frequently, at least once a week. If you want as well, a number of anti-spyware programs offer "real-time protection" -- often at a cost -- to help make sure that your computer never gets infected again.

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