I helped out a friend from work today. “I’ve got adverts popping up from time to time and it’s starting to annoy me”. I cannot believe the amount of spyware I found and cleansed from his machine. Unbelievable. I started thinking…how did you let it get like this but after a while it was more…the majority of folks pc’s will be like this – spyware and spam are ruining the internet for the casual user. Therefore what follows is my quick guide to stopping spyware.

Firstly, use a firewall and a virus scanner. Preferably a hardware firewall but software will do. Win XP service pack 2 comes with a firewall but I would still recommend installing a separate program. As soon as you install windows make sure the firewall is up and running. Next install an anti-virus package. I still can’t see past Nortons Anti-Virus and probably Zonealarm but Nortons Security Suite will do both. PC Pro also recommended F-Secure Internet Suite as their recommended net security tool so that’s worth a look too.

That’s the pc secured but it won’t stop spyware from being installed and taking over your machine. The next best step is to install an alternative browser to Internet Explorer. You could try Opera but Firefox for me is faster, offers more features through extensions and is free. By doing this many of the spyware tools that takeover your browser will be eliminated from ever running on your machine. This however is still not enough.

Next I would download and install three different spyware detection and removal tools. They are Microsoft’s Spyware beta, Ad-Aware and Spybot. The reason why I suggest all three rather than one is that they all seem to detect spyware to a greater or lesser extent. The advantage of Microsoft’s tool is that you can have it running in the background so that new spyware threats can be trapped before they are installed. Ad-aware and Spybot are recognised as industry leaders when it comes to spyware – I would recommend running them at least once a month and deleting anything that they find.

The above should lead to a clean pc free of any nasties that are downloading in the background while you surf. However the key to hassle free pc is to make sure all the signature files and virus updates for the above software are downloaded as frequently as possible. It’s a pain but there’s no point having a virus scanner whose signatures are a year old.

Once final brownie point goes to the Microsoft Spyware beta. It has a couple of nice features that make it easy to track and remove other problems. One is the System Explorers. From here you can easily see what is currently running on your pc and what is started up each time you reboot your machine. In fact using this tool today I found a search bar that wasn’t automatically detected by any of the above tools but could easily be disabled and then removed from the System Explorer screen. The second feature is a tool to restore the default IE settings in case your browser has been hi-jacked by another search engine – very nice.