Norton UK Blog
How to Remove Spyware
Is your computer behaving oddly? Have your settings changed? Perhaps you’re being pestered by pop-up ads, even when you’re not surfing the web? Or maybe your computer is running slowly, freezing more than usual, or programs are frequently crashing? Sounds like you may have picked up spyware or other unwanted software.
Spyware isn’t just a potential nuisance – it can also pose serious security and privacy risks. Malicious spyware aims to track your online movements and harvest and exploit your private information, such as credit card details and account user names and passwords. It may also change your home and search page settings, install unwanted add-ons, redirect you to offensive sites and even make changes to your computer’s registry.
Malicious spyware is hard to detect because it is designed to either run quietly in the background or actively conceal itself. It may also undermine your attempts to remove it by preventing security software from running properly, or by covertly installing and concealing bits of code to make it harder to erase completely.
Preventing infection in the first place is the best defence against spyware – but if you suspect that your computer has already been affected, then you can try these steps to remove it.
Run security software
Installing comprehensive Internet security software that includes anti-spyware features should help prevent spyware infection and aid in its removal. It’s vital that you keep this software updated and run regular scans to identify any issues.
The most effective way to get rid of spyware is to run security software that monitors programs which attempt to install themselves on your computer, scan for any malware that may have already found a way in, and remove unwanted software.
You can choose whether to run a full computer scan, quick scan or custom scan.
- A quick scan will go through those parts of your computer that spyware is most likely to get into.
- A full scan looks at all areas of the computer and may take some time to run.
- A custom scan is useful if you think a particular part of your computer has been infected.
If the scan detects unwanted software such as spyware, follow the prompts to remove it.
To manually remove spyware
If the scan won’t run, fails to detect malware or cannot remove the spyware program, you can attempt to do so manually. Be aware that doing so is risky: if you accidentally remove the wrong program, your computer could shut down or – although it’s unlikely – become inoperable. If you don’t feel confident about manually removing unwanted software, then don’t – leave it to a professional.
If you’re intending to delete unwanted programs, first back up everything that’s important and set a system restore point for your computer. (This will let you undo any changes made to your computer’s system, but leave your email, photos and other personal files and documents alone.)
- From the Start menu (the location of this menu may vary depending on your operating system version), select Control Panel and then Programs and features. Carefully go through the list of programs to see if there’s anything there that shouldn’t be.
- Select any programs that you’re certain are spyware and then click Uninstall. If you’re not sure, leave it alone.
Spyware won’t always show up in your computer’s list of programs, so if you can’t see it, it might have hidden itself by altering your computer’s registry.
If you’ve run security software and tried to uninstall spyware manually but are still getting symptoms of spyware infection, you could consider reinstalling the operating system.
Caution: Reinstalling your operating system will kill off spyware but will also erase your programs and files. If you’re going to do this, first back up all of your important data and make sure you have the necessary installation disks to hand.
If you don’t feel comfortable reinstalling the operating system, call in the experts.
How to avoid future spyware infection
Be proactive in protecting your computer from unwelcome software:
- Install comprehensive Internet security software that includes anti-spyware features, and keep it up to date. Regularly scan your computer.
- Download with care, and only from trusted sources. Be especially careful with file-sharing programs. Make sure you know what you’re agreeing to before you click ‘I agree/accept’ in licensing agreements, and always read privacy statements. Be alert to notifications of data-gathering and sharing.
- Don’t click on ads or suspicious dialogue boxes.
- Browse mindfully. Type web addresses directly into your browser rather than clicking on links in questionable emails, social media messages or websites. If you don’t know the sender, be especially vigilant.
A clean start
If your computer is misbehaving, spyware could be the culprit. Running a security scan is the first point of call in detecting and removing such malware, but malicious spyware may prevent scans from running, fail to show up in scan results or not allow the security software to remove it. Those who feel confident may choose to uninstall spyware manually or reinstall their computer operating system – having backed up everything first – but if you’re in any doubt at all, contact the experts.