Spyware, adware, and internet cookies. What's good and what's bad. Privacy and removal tips and help.

What is spyware? What is adware?

Spyware is simply a program (or multiple programs) that run on your pc and spy on your activities, most often displaying you advertisements based on your activities. This is also known as adware. Many times you will see popups, or ads on webpages that are really only displayed to you because you have been browsing these types of items and they are now displaying ads related to this. Many ads are just random ads also from the adware, as you may think a site is full of popups or that a site is slow loading, but its really just your pc and all the spyware and adware programs running on it.

What are web cookies?

Web cookies are simply bits of software placed on your computer when you browse websites. Not all websites have these, but many do, especially the large well-known websites. Websites use cookies so they can track what you are viewing, and although they won't necessarily know you by name (lets hope it never gets to that point), the website will recognize your computer when you come back to visit again.

What is bad about cookies?

People do not like being tracked. Even if some companies mean no harm, people still do not like the fact they are being monitored while they browse. Cookies can also show links in them if someone happens to look at them on your pc. For example, if you wife is on the pc and happens to browse any cookies (they are just viewable text files with other mumbled garbage which the websites can interpret), she may not like the fact that you have been viewing sex sites (or vice versa). Most of the websites that store the cookies, will have the site name or link visible in the cookie on your machine, so its normally easy to tell where the cookie came from.

What good are cookies?

Cookies have some beneficial things. For example, when you log on to certain sites, did you ever notice that when you return again you do not have to sign on the next time? Thats because it stored your password and id on your machine in a cookie. The same holds true when you purchase goods online, you can return later and your goods are still in your shopping cart (in a cookie!). Cookies are also very beneficial to websites trying to market to you. (Some consider this bad for the consumer as many do not want websites tracking what you like to view online!). For example, if you go to one of the major search engines, like yahoo.com, google.com, search.aol.com, etc. and search for "web cookies", the next time you come back to the website to search again, you may see a large picture or cookie advertisement at the top of your screen. This is NOT what everyone sees, only you! They know you like this alot because you searched for it last time you were there, so they now show you advertisements because it may be something targeted towards your buying habits.

How do I get rid of cookies?

There is an option in your browser to ask if you want to accept cookies, but that is a real pain because you constantly are clicking buttons saying "no". It makes browsing very difficult when you spend all your time answering "no" to every cookie, since they are all over the net on most websites. I recommend downloading the software program "Complete Cleanup" at this site. This is the easiest program to use and the best program I have found for safely removing all the cookies on your machine (also cleans up many other things).

What are cache files? Are these related to cookie files?

Cache files help your browser go faster since it caches the files to be used. These are also left behind on your pc and includes everything, including pictures, sound files, video files, and text that you have browsed. If you share your pc in any way, you probably want to keep these cleaned when you get done browsing (see previous paragraph for removing these).

How does spyware or adware get on my pc?

Most spyware or adware occurs because of downloading freebie software (when something is totally free, you have to figure people have to make money somewhere), so that when you install it there are hidden programs installed with it that show you the ads. Normally this doesn't happen with shareware as shareware is free to try, then either expires or stops working, so you have to pay a small fee. Shareware usually comes with support for any questions you have also, as freeware does not, so if you get spyware or adware from a freeware installation then you are stuck trying to find it and remove it yourself. Many spyware or adware programs also can be installed by visiting rogue webpages that have security flaws, allowing these programs to be installed on your pc without your knowledge. This is typically done through ActiveX or Java security holes, but thats a more technical issue that we won't get into here, this is just to inform you where adware and spyware come from.

How do I track and find spyware or adware?

There are many programs on the internet that will attempt to find this for you, some work and some don't. The best way is to track what is really running on your pc when you reboot your machine, everything needs a way to startup when you reboot so you can find and kill it there. There are also browser objects that run when you open your web browser. Look for for a program named Spy Guardian Pro, it will track these for you and allow you remove them (they will also evaluate your system for free if you are a registered user of this program, but this is a shareware program). Many of the spyware programs out there that look for program names to remove simply are not accurate, so get used to viewing your programs that run in your browser and in your startup lists, and you will be way ahead of most people. Its actually fairly simple to do and can eliminate spyware or adware at the root.

Is it safe to buy stuff online? Are cookies used for this?

I have done a ton of shopping online, for clothes, cd's, books, and I have even bought groceries with my credit card online. I have never had a problem, and I personally feel it is safer than handing the credit card to a waiter at a restaurant. Cookies are used alot during internet shopping also, but in a good way. They often are used to store (for example, your clothes you have added to the shopping cart) your order on your machine. If you logoff and back on, your order is still there and you can continue shopping. They can of course, be used to market banners and advertisements towards you based upon what you were shopping or looking for.

What is the best way to keep my information private? How do I keep my email from getting spammed?

Most websites today that sell anything online are pretty good about keeping your information confidential (obviously not all of them though). Many even state this when you are ordering, as there is normally a link saying that they keep information private. You can help limit your information by not filling in information on sites that are NON-ordering sites. For example, you know those sites that want to send you a free magazine by just filling in your information and clicking ok? Many of those sites are giving you free stuff so they can get your information. If you wish to keep the cookie and history information left behind on your pc cleaned up, then you can use the software that I listed above in the previous paragraphs above. If you would like to keep you email from getting spammed, you can do a few things. First, send them a nice email and tell them not to email you again, or if you have an AOL account, there is blocking features on the email that you can set to block specific emails, or only allow specific emails. This can save you the trouble of even asking someone to stop, just simply shut them off! You can also get one of many free email services if you don't want to give anyone your main email, so there is alot of options for you to choose.