Monday, December 18, 2006

Remove adware and spyware from your Windows machine using Ad-Aware and Spybot - Search & Destroy

In this easy visual guide, I will show you how to remove spyware, adware, malware and other annoying and possibly dangerous bugs from your Windows computer. To successfully do this, you will need two applications that are available for free for personal use: Ad-Aware SE from Lavasoft and Spybot - Search & Destroy from PepiMK Software.

Both of these great applications are needed to effectively protect your Windows machine from spyware, because one does not detect everything that the other does, and vice-versa.

This guide is divided into six parts:

  1. What is spyware, adware and malware?
  2. Downloading, installing and keeping up-to-date Ad-Aware SE
  3. Modifying and adjusting Ad-Aware settings for a thorough scan
  4. Scanning and cleaning your Windows machine with Ad-Aware
  5. Downloading, installing and updating Spybot - Search & Destroy
  6. Scanning for and removing possible threats with Spybot - S & D

1. What is spyware, adware and malware?

If you happen to see many windows which pop up as soon as you are connected to the Internet and start surfing the Web using a browser, chances are that your computer is infected with spyware. Also, a slower Internet connection may also be a sign of an infection. The worst thing that can happen is when spyware opens the doors for trojans and viruses that can do severe damage to your Windows system. How does this happen?

When surfing the Web, you are following links that lead you from one website to another. Some of websites out there have scripts (programming code) that are being executed upon the arrival of a visitor. A great number of websites leave cookies (small pieces of data) on your computer. A cookie serves to keep track of your visits to a website. If you have browsed Amazon's store a few times, you may have noticed that the website has suggestions for you based on your previous searches. That happens thanks to the cookie which is stored on your computer.

But, if any of these scripts happen to be malicious, they try (and some succeed) to get inside your operating system and leave a bug inside: This bug then proceeds to collect your personal data, which in turn gets sent to spammers and people trying to sell you stuff that you don't need and after some time, you are not able to surf the Web normally because of the sheer number of pop-ups that begin to show up. This is often called adware, because these pop-ups contain advertising inside them.

Malware is software that is a virus or installs viruses, worms or trojan horses inside your operating system, which then proceed to erase your data, make your computer reboot, try to connect to the Internet automatically and so on. A real disaster involves malware that if installed on your computer, can track your keyboard clicks: this kind of software is called a key logger. A key logger saves data while you use your computer, sending the sequences of the keys you pressed and sometimes even screenshots to evil-minded individuals, who have the possibility to see your passwords for various websites and/or e-mail accounts, credit card numbers etc.

All of the above scenarios involve software that is sometimes called adware, spyware or malware. These terms are often used interchangeably. They are all annoying and dangerous. I will show you now how to get rid of these.

2. Downloading, installing and keeping up-to-date Ad-Aware SE

2.1 To begin, download Ad-Aware SE for free from The size of the installation file is about 2.7 MB, so it won't take long to download it, even if you are on a slower connection. Save it somewhere where you will find it fast: usually it is the desktop, or maybe the My Documents folder if you have set it as the default location for all your downloads.

2.2 Once the download is completed, find and double-click the aawsepersonal.exe file. The installation will begin automatically.

Beginning the installation of Ad-Aware

2.3 The image below shows the Ad-Aware installation startup screen. Before you click the Next button, it is recommended that you close all the Windows programs that are currently open. Also, consider shutting down your antivirus program, as it might possibly detect Ad-Aware as a harmful program, which it is not. Some antivirus programs (for example, NOD32) don't have any problems with you installing Ad-Aware.

Starting the installation of Ad-Aware.

2.4 Read the License Agreement: you should be aware (no pun intended) that Ad-Aware is free for personal use. If you agree with the terms, check the "I accept the license agreement" option and click Next.

The Ad-Aware legal agreement.

2.5 The installer will prompt you to choose a location for installing Ad-Aware. If you don't have a specific reason to install the program in a particular location, it is best to leave the default setting. Most Windows programs tend to work best if the default parameters were selected during installation. If you are not well skilled with a particular program or the Windows operating system itself, you might have trouble figuring later what to do in case that something shows up and the default locations weren't selected. Again, click Next.

Selecting the location for installing ad-aware.

2.6 You will now be presented with the option to install the program for the current user only (you) or to make possible for anyone who is using the computer to be able to use Ad-Aware. You never know when something might happen — someone needing to quickly eradicate spyware from the machine, or maybe you losing the password for your account temporarily. Selecting the option that enables anyone to run Ad-Aware is reasonable. Click Next.

Selecting if the program will be used by all accounts on a computer or a single one.

2.7 As the last step in the installation, three options are presented to you. Make sure to check the "Update definition file now" option. By doing this, the installer will automatically download the latest updates and defintions needed to fight the newest spyware and adware. Uncheck the "Perform a full system scan now" option, because you will be making setting the options for a custom scan later. Uncheck the "Open the help file now" option too, as you don't need to go through it now. Before clicking the Finish button, make sure that you are connected to the Internet. If your computer isn't connected to the Internet and you proceed, Ad-Aware won't be able to download the updates, and the scanning becomes much less effective, if not futile. Also, Ad-Aware sometimes becomes unresponsive and crashes if you order it to get the updates and there is no Internet connection available!

The last step of the installation.

2.8 Zap! The installation is finished and you will soon see a small window pop up where Ad-Aware is showing how much remains for the updates to be downloaded. If you look at this window, you will see that the currently installed definitions file (the one included with the downloaded installer) is dating back to the first half of 2005! That's why I stressed the importance of having a live Internet connection so that the updates can be downloaded. A year and a half (this guide is made at the end of 2006) in Internet time means decades. There was so much new spyware, adware and other garbage made during that period of time that having an outdated definitions file means your program is as good as dead. You will see that new spyware gets produced on a daily basis because Ad-Aware will very frequently prompt you to download updates — it reminds you to do this automatically, which is excellent.

Ad-Aware is downloading the latest updates against spyware and malware.

Click on the link below to go over to the next page and see how to set up Ad-Aware for optimal performance.

Next part: How to modify and select the settings in Ad-Aware for a powerful scan


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