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Spyware, adware, viruses, malware and rootkits. If you own a PC and you're not an uber geek then there's a good chance that you've had a run in with one or more of these things. It can prove quite challenging finding the right tool for the job when it comes to cleaning up your system and getting rid of the nasties.
For those who have no idea what I am talking about, spyware and adware is software made by publishers that allow them to snoop on your browsing habits and invade your privacy. Other unwanted side effects include being flooded by popup ads and your computer may begin to run much slower. A very much more sinister scenario is one in which personal information may be leaked back to these publishers from your computer without your knowledge.
It's all very nasty stuff and there are a growing number of downloadable software applications that claim to remove the threat and guard against future attacks. I have tried quite a few of these and some work better than others. I've found that the best defence though is to use a variety of good tools and practice safe browsing habits. Things change rapidly and what works today might not be the best option tomorrow, with that in mind I'll try and keep the links on this article up to date when I can.
When I originally wrote this article I was using tools such as Bazooka spyware scanner and Ad-Aware. They are both still available I believe although I haven't used either of them for some time. A while back I also downloaded and installed Microsoft's Anti-Spyware offering and I have heard that their latest suite called Windows Defender is actually pretty good too.
Both are free to use unless you want to pay for the premium versions with a few more bells and whistles, but for me the free stuff works just fine and keeps my system protected. With Malwarebytes, you'll need to run an update and a scan manually as only the paid for version does this automatically.
Your browser and choice of search engine can also help to a certain degree help keep your computer clean. Google Chrome will warn you when a website you are trying to visit contains malicious software and Google's search results will often warn you before you even click on a link. It would be unwise to rely on these alone however.
One last tip. Make sure your operating system is up to date and that you are running a firewall of some sort as well as an anti-virus program which should also be kept up to date.