Let me first start by defining spyware as any program that does undesirable things to your computer. Spyware is also known as adware, malware, badware etc. I use the term spyware simply because it is used the most and most people understand it. Back in the early days of computer and the windows operating system the only thing you had to worry about was viruses. Now viruses are almost forgotten with the rampantness of spyware. It used to be all you needed was a good anti-virus software and you were protected, now you need a firewall, an anti-spyware program, an anti-virus program, a spam filter, and a pop-up blocker.
Use a secure web browser
This is the most significant measure you can take to reduce your risk to spyware. Most people use Internet Explorer which is the web browser that comes with windows. It is notorious for having security problems. I have experienced it myself right after I installed a fresh copy of Windows XP. I just finished the windows setup and launched Internet Explorer to get online. I accidentally typed in a web address wrong, Immediately I was taken to a site full of ads and pop-ups. One of these pop-ups installed spyware on my computer. I did not do anything except type a web address wrong and spyware installed itself to my computer automatically through security holes in Internet Explorer. If this is not reason enough to use a different web browser I don’t know what is. If you are using Windows your best option would be to use Firefox, you can download it from mozilla. If you’re using Linux my favorite browser is epiphany, it is much faster than Firefox since it is integrated with the Gnome Desktop
Update Windows Regularly
So basically the way the software works is that companies write software and then sell it to you. Then they wait for the hackers to find security holes in the software, when they do they fix the security holes and then make you download the security fixes and install them. I don’t know why it works that way but that is how it works and Microsoft is no different. So you should probably go to Windows Updates for non-IE users. Windows updates are not as important if you don’t use Internet Explorer because most of the updates are fixes for Internet Explorer.
Don’t look at porn
Pornographic sites are littered with Spyware and other bad stuff. ‘nuf said.
Don’t use Peer-to-Peer file sharing software.
Most P2P software contains spyware in it. Kazaa is the best example of this. Once you install it on a computer it’ll bring the system to a crawl. Other software to avoid includes Bearshare, Ares, Morpheus, among others. If you really need P2P software I suggest you look into Bittorrent.
Be careful what you download.
As with the P2P software above many other “useful” software includes spyware. Weatherbug is a prime example of this. It does a useful function of keeping you informed of the weather but it also keeps track of your web activities and sends them to a server. Only download and install software that is available freely from the Internet if you are sure it is spyware free. Many supposed anti-spyware programs actually include spyware. Be especially wary of screen savers, “pop-up blockers” and things like netshots.
Install a anti-spyware program
This should be your last line of defense. Education is really the best prevention for spyware. Even the best anti-spyware program can’t stop you from clicking “install” and installing that cool kitty screen saver that just sent your parents bank records to Joe hacker. Some good anti-spyware programs that offer real time protection include Microsoft Antispyware/Windows Defender and Spybot Search and destroy. They are available on the spyware scanners page.
Other useful anti-virus resource guides: