Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Avoid Spyware

        Tech | How-to Tech

Avoiding Spyware

When it comes to spyware, the best defense is a great offense. Taking action to avoid getting spyware on your computer in the first place helps prevent you from becoming a victim. That is, of course, easier said than done. However, there are a number of actions you should take to guard against the spyware threat:

  • Keep Windows up-to-date by setting up automatic updates in the control panel. Microsoft issues critical updates at least monthly. Many of those are designed to eliminate or avoid specific spyware threats.
  • Install an anti-virus software package and keep it updated at all times. There are many of these available, some of which are free. The most popular brands include Norton, Microsoft Defender, McAfee, Spybot, Search & Destroy, Pest Control and Grisoft. Your Internet service provider may offer a utility or guide you to a recommended solution, too.
  • Don't download shareware (or anything else for that matter) from unknown sources. Seek out reliable providers of free utilities, such as
  • When you do download software, read the end user license agreement before committing to the installation. When in doubt, do not install the software.
  • Don't click on any pop-up or advertisement for free anti-spyware software. These are almost always fake, even if they carry the name and logo of a well-known publisher. Ironically, this is a very popular method used to distribute spyware and other malware. If you're looking for anti-virus software, go directly to the company's Web site and be sure you're where you think you are.
  • Set your browser and operating system security level to at least the medium setting (or higher) for best results. You may see a few more warning messages, but it's a small price to pay for security.
  • Install a firewall and, if you have a home network, use a separate router, rather than sharing the Internet connection through one of your computers. This puts one more barrier between you and the bad guys.
  • Avoid questionable Web sites. If you visit a site that seems strange, there's a good chance you shouldn't be there.
  • If a virus alert appears on your screen as you visit a Web site, don't click on it, even to close it. Instead, type control-alt-delete to launch the Task Manager and use the "End Task" command to close the window. Next, use your own anti-virus software to run a complete scan of the system.
  • Never open an e-mail attachment if you're uncertain of its source.