You may use your computer for shopping online, banking, tax preparation or other activities that involve your sensitive personal information. Most of the time, it's safe to perform these activities and you don't need to worry about someone tracking you and stealing your data. If someone has installed tracking software on the computer, though, he might have access to an array of information, including your bank account or social security number. Some companies install tracking applications on your computer for advertising purposes that don't steal your data but may slow down the machine significantly. Even if the software is well-hidden, you can find hints that it's been installed on your computer.
Pay attention to your computer's performance. If it runs much slower than normal or programs keep crashing, spyware may have been installed.
Click the "Start" button and type "security" in the search bar (without quotes here and in subsequent commands). Click "Change security settings" to look at your computer's security settings, and keep checking them periodically. Some spyware will change your settings repeatedly even after you've changed them back.
Examine your Internet browser for strange new add-ons or toolbars. If you see a toolbar that you didn't install, a tracking program might have installed it.
Look for pop-up ads that appear repeatedly whenever you browse the Internet. Sometimes, these ads will appear as soon as you turn on the computer or when Internet access is disabled.
Press "Ctrl-Shift-Esc" to open the Windows Task Manager and then click the "Processes" tab. Look for any unusual programs, processes or applications running under a username other than your own.
Click the "Start" and "All Programs." Examine the list of programs for strange new applications that you didn't install. Look for programs like GoToMyPC or LogMeIn. These are legitimate programs that give a remote user access to your computer.
Look for strange icons in your task bar. These are programs that are currently running. Click the small arrow on the task bar to see more running applications.
Click the "Start" button and type "firewall" in the search box, and then click "Windows Firewall." Click "Allow a program or feature through Windows Firewall." Checked programs are allowed to run through your computer's firewall. Look for unfamiliar programs that are enabled to send and receive data through the firewall. If you don't recognize a program, uncheck it.
- If you're still not sure whether someone has installed spyware on your machine, run an anti-spyware program. Many are free, including SpyBot Search & Destroy, AVG and Spyware Doctor. A single anti-spyware application won't likely catch every infection. Also, some spyware is sophisticated enough to recognize and shut down any scanning tool as soon as it runs. Take your computer to a professional repair center if this happens.
- Windows has a User Account Control feature, turned on by default, that notifies you when a program tries to make changes to your computer. To reactivate it, click "Start" and type "user account," and then click "Change User Account Control Settings." Adjust the slider to the Default level. You can also set the slider to Always Notify if you want the computer to give a notification when you or another user makes changes to Windows settings.
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