Viruses/SpyWare and Other Threats

Spyware, Viruses & Other Threats

 Slow computer? Pop-ups? Crashes? Internet suddenly slow? Your computer's probably infected with spyware or viruses.

 Most of the time when a computer is slow, freezes up a lot, or has a lot of pop-ups, it's because of spyware and/or viruses. These things are dangerous, many computers are infected, and many people don't even know they have them on their computers.  Backing up your files is something you should do on a regular basis in case you ever experience any of these problems.


Spyware, also known as adware or malware, is everywhere these days. There are several ways your computer can become infected. Many free programs, especially file sharing programs, install spyware on your computer or make your computer vulnerable to spyware-infected files masquerading as songs, games, or videos. These things can do all sorts of bad things to your computer, including making it really slow, making it crash, making your Internet connection slow, or making programs not work. Even worse, it can do bad things to you too. It can install things that monitor your computer activity, steal your personal information and use that to steal your identity, and "hijack" your computer and use it to send out spam or viruses to other people.

It is strongly recommend that you use at least one anti-spyware program (preferably more than one*) and periodically scan your computer for spyware, even if you aren't having any problems. See our Downloads section for links to download several free anti-spyware programs.

*Note that although you should never have more than one anti-virus program installed on your computer at the same time, it is okay - recommended, actually - to have more than one anti-spyware program on your computer at the same time (they differ in how they define/identify spyware, so each one often finds things the others missed).

Avoiding/preventing spyware

Nothing offers 100% protection from spyware, but the best way to reduce your chances of getting spyware is to be suspicious of everything and always know what you're clicking on. Most spyware cannot take hold unless you activate it in some way by clicking on something. If you don't know what something is and exactly what it's going to do, don't click on it. Also, if you're still using an old version of Internet Explorer (IE), upgrade it. Old versions of IE were less secure and more prone to threats than newer versions or other web browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.

Beware of fake programs & warnings. There are tons of fake "spyware removal" programs out there that actually are spyware! These fake spyware removal programs also try to confuse people by using names that sound like real security programs and by mimicking the screens of real programs. Don't install any program unless you know for sure that it's legitimate.

Also, if you see a warning pop up on your screen saying that your computer is infected, chances are that it's actually spyware or an attempt to install spyware on your computer. If you ever see something like this, do not click on anything! Save your work first then turn off your computer without clicking on anything. With many of these, even if you click on what looks like the close button, your computer will become infected.  The Learning Commons Help Desk can give you some advice on how to resolve your problem. 


Computer viruses like the viruses that affect humans are something we need to protect against.  There are some excellent sources on the web regarding how to protect your computer, and subsequently your personal information, from these annoying and often destructive infections.

Computer Viruses for Dummies - a terrific "cheat sheet" of how to protect yourself from viruses

How Stuff Works - information on what types of computer there viruses are, who creates viruses and why


You can try using Windows System Restore (Start - All Programs - Accessories - System Tools - System Restore) to return your system to an earlier point in time, before it became infected. You can also try scanning your computer with one or more free anti-spyware programs - try Malwarebytes first. You may need to go into Safe Mode before doing these things. You enter Safe Mode by pressing the F8 key when your computer first starts booting up but before Windows starts. Turn the computer on and keep tapping F8 until you get the boot options screen. It can be tricky to catch it at the right moment - you may need to try more than once.

Sometimes spyware infections can be so bad that even all of the available tools can't completely clean & fix your computer. If you've tried scanning for spyware and viruses, but still have problems or signs that your computer is infected, you may need to take more extensive measures. The best thing to do in these cases is to restore your computer to its original configuration using your restore disks or restore method provided by your computer's manufacturer. If you don't want to or can't fix it yourself, you may need to get help from a computer repair service.

File Sharing Software

File sharing programs - those used to "share" music, movies, etc. not only configure themselves to always be running in the background, so they use up your computer's system resources & make it slow, but they often also install spyware on your computer or make your computer vulnerable to spyware-infected files masquerading as songs, games, or videos.  Additional information on File Sharing can be found at Online Safety Resources for the Home.

Phishing (e-mail scams)

"Phishing" e-mails - scams designed to get you to reveal your personal information so they can access your accounts and steal your identity - have become more frequent and sophisticated. The most important thing to know about these types of messages is:

They are never legitimate. No legitimate organization will ever ask you for your password, and will never send e-mail asking for personal information.

What happens when someone responds to a phishing sca

What happens to you: Your e-mail account is taken over. The perpetrators can then send spam & scams from your account, forward your mail to their own account so they get a copy of everything you get, and read/copy everything you have saved in your e-mail.  There may be enough personal and financial information for your identity to be stolen

What happens to your email account: Once they are in your account, they use it to send spam. Spam coming from your address can cause you to get blacklisted (blocked by outside organizations) and your messages will not be received.

Examples of some of the scams

The messages appear to come from an established business (AOL,, eBay, PayPal, etc.) or financial institution (US Bank, Wells Fargo, Citibank, etc.) with whom lots of people do business. They may claim that there's a problem with your account, that they've had computer system problems and lost your information, or that there's been fraudulent activity on your account (which is exactly what they intend to perform!). They ask you to click on a link in the message to go to the company's web site and "verify" or "update" your information. If you click the link in the e-mail message, however, the web site it takes you to will be a fake site run by the scammers, which they've set up to look exactly like the real site for that company. Whatever information you enter on the fake site gets sent to the criminals, who then use that information to get into your account(s).

There's no end to the types of clever scams they think up. There are even scams where they take over someone's e-mail account, and then e-mail all the person's friends pretending to be the person. They claim to be having some kind of problem and need money, for example that they've traveled to another country and were robbed and need money to get home. There are many variations of these scams, so you can't rely on any particular word, address, or other indicator to identify them. Instead, just remember that no legitimate company or organization would solicit your personal information in this way.

What to do when you get a phishing message: Just delete it.

How to avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams

This is an area where the technology can't protect you, so you have to protect yourself. There's no need to avoid online shopping, banking, and bill paying, just use good common sense & caution.

    Be suspicious of everything when you are online. A little skepticism will help you avoid doing something that will cause lots of problems later.

    Remember that real banks, online merchants, and other companies, do not send you e-mail asking for personal information.

    If you receive one of these messages, do not reply, click on the links, or call the phone numbers listed in the message. If you think it might be from your bank or credit card company, get out your card or statement and call the number listed there. If you think it might be from an online company, go to their home page by typing the address yourself (e.g., and investigate from there.

What to do if you've responded to a phishing scam

Immediately change your password to something that's as complicated as you can make it - using symbols, upper- and lower-case letters, and numbers - and is completely unlike your previous password. (No, you can't just stick a different number to the end of the same password. You shouldn't be doing that anyway!)

Contact your email account provider, they can help you to assess the extent of the problem and advise you on how to resolve the problem.

Additional Information: