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Privacy & Security Canada > Protecting Your Computer > Spyware & Unwanted Software

Spyware & Unwanted Software

Spyware and unwanted software are programs installed on a user's computer without their knowledge to secretly gather information about the user. Once your computer is infected with spyware, third parties can monitor your web surfing habits and steal your personal information. As a result, spyware is a serious threat to your computer's security and your information.

How Do You Get Spyware & Unwanted Software?

Spyware is often bundled as a hidden component of files and applications you download from the Internet, but even if you aren't a frequent downloader, your computer can become infected with spyware by visiting a malicious website. Users can be tricked into downloading unwanted software by clicking a button such as "I Agree" or "Cancel" within a pop-up window.

Symptoms of Spyware Infection

  • Your browser home page settings have changed and won't change back when you adjust them.

  • Unusual items that you haven't set or saved, such as an unfamiliar search site or strange item in your Favourites list, appear in your browser.

  • Your system is continuously sluggish, running much slower and crashing more frequently than it did before.

  • Pop-up advertisements appear all the time, even when you are not connected to the Internet.

  • You have hefty charges on your phone bill for calls you never made.

  • There is activity on your computer, as though you are sending and receiving information, even when you are not connected to the Internet.

How to Remove Spyware

If you are concerned about spyware and unwanted software, or suspect your computer may be infected, download an anti-spyware tool from a reputable online source to help you remove it.

Tips to Prevent Spyware

  1. Check out the legitimacy of free software, tools and online services before you use them. Enter the name of a product, tool or vendor into your search engine and scan the results.

  2. Be wary of freeware or free services online. Even innocuous looking screen savers, cookie managers, fun cursors and Internet pets can be disguising hidden software.

  3. Beware of pop-up windows that say you're a winner if you "click here." Beware of any unusual buttons located within suspicious pop-ups: these can lead to spyware downloads.

  4. Always carefully read licensing agreements and privacy agreements prior to installing software.

Most Importantly:

  1. Anti-spyware tools, as with all clean-up tools of this nature, remove targeted software but do not block your computer from future infection. Just as you would with anti-virus software, you will need to access updated copies of the anti-spyware tool and run it on an ongoing basis.