Most of us use our computers several times a week, and many of us use our computers on a daily basis. Because our PCs boot up, our programs run when we double-click on icons, and we can browse the internet unfettered, far too many of us mistakenly assume that our computers have a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, however, for some people — maybe you — there are silent killers working their black voodoo magic the background; viruses and spyware slowly siphoning your personal information away to strangers, and maybe even destroying your files, and killing off your computer’s internal protection measures so that they can operate freely within the confines of your computer system’s walls. The question is — are you an unwitting participant in this based-on-a-true-story, made-for-PCs horror movie?
Spyware – the identity thief
Spyware can rob you of your privacy, and it can lead to the complete takeover of your identity by unscrupulous third parties. Sometimes spyware is relatively benign, aside from the privacy intrusion implications, and does little more than track your internet usage or monitors the software that you use on your computer. Other spyware, however, keeps track of passwords that you enter into login forms, grabs your credit card numbers, bank account numbers, social security number, as well as other sensitive information, and sends it to an unknown party who either uses it themselves or sells it to others for them to use as they wish.
Spyware is unfortunately very easy to ‘catch’, kind of like the common cold or food poisoning, depending on how you look at it. While spyware is generally embedded in software that you download and install — like a game, a toolbar, a PC security application, or even a coupon printer — your computer can also become infected through simply visiting a malicious web page that exploits a hole in your computer’s security.
Viruses – the PC killer
Viruses, while they can have spyware-like implications, are infections that can spread throughout your PC much like a virus spreads throughout your body and can result in sickness. However, much like viruses that infect us, computer viruses can be asymptomatic, and you might not be able to tell that your PC is infected until it’s too late. Viruses can be unfortunately devastating — they can disable certain functions on your computer, like being able to run certain anti-virus software, they can disable your internet altogether or prevent you from visiting specific websites, and they can even render your computer completely unusable.
While most computer viruses are not ‘invisible’, so to speak, they can remain hidden for quite some time if they do not affect your daily computer-usage routines. If a computer virus is left to run as it pleases, eventually you will suffer some kind of data loss, and maybe even lose the ability to boot up your computer anymore.
How to verify that your computer is free of viruses and spyware
The best way to confirm that your computer is spyware and virus free is to have a professional computer repair technician scan your PC for viruses and spyware. While there are plenty of virus and spyware removal tools available today for the amateur and pro DIY (do it yourself) computer repair technician, when in the hands of a computer novice, they can actually be quite dangerous because of the false sense of security that they can give. While you should absolutely install trusted anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer, sometimes it just isn’t enough to protect your PC from new infections.
If you do not want to be an unwitting participant in this all-too-real, made-for-PCs horror-movie scenario, you need to be aware of the inherit risks of using your computer, especially when you are continually connected to the internet. Don’t assume that your computer is clean just because it runs, or even because a free anti-virus or anti-spyware program says that your computer is clean. For your own security and privacy’s sake, have a professional scan your computer for viruses and spyware from time to time — it’s a precautionary measure that may very well save you from a world of hurt in the not-too-distant future.