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By Ted Werth

Often times when your computer is running fast and smooth, you think nothing can go wrong, you are the master of your technology and all is right with the world.

Then reality hits. Suddenly, your applications are suddenly slow and dragging, for apparently no reason at all. Why is that? What could you have done differently today than yesterday?

The answer is frustrating, yet simple. You most likely visited one too many Web sites that attached spyware programs to your computer. Regardless of the reason, the last thing your small business needs are computers that start acting up. But, if your small business is like most, you cannot afford dedicated in-house tech support. So you have to get smart and get armed to combat everyday spyware attacks.

What is Spyware?
Spyware is a general term used to describe software that has been installed on your computer illegally. The worst part is that you almost never know you have it until your computer begins to act differently. And, once you discover it, you are left without a way to easily remove it from your computer.

This is a common problem for consumers and small and home-based businesses. As a matter of fact, small businesses are even most at risk because they often do not have a firewall in place to protect their networks from “company spies.” And, since so many small businesses are home based, they are just as susceptible to spyware and viruses as the home PC.

If your office computer has some or all of the following symptoms, it may have spyware or other unwanted software on it:

• You see windows opening without your initiating their activity. These windows contain advertisements (called pop-up advertisements). They can occur even when you are not on the Web.

• The page your Web browser automatically opens to is no longer the page you had pre-selected.

• There have been changes to your browser settings that have affected the security settings. In many cases the old settings cannot be permanently restored. In some cases, you will not be able to browse to a new page at all.

• Your computer is slower than it use to be. If you look closely, you may see programs running on your computer that you did not intentionally install. In fact, more than 70 percent of computers have unnecessary programs running on them.

• You might notice a new toolbar in your browser or on your desktop.
• Your computer displays more error messages.

How do you get Spyware?

There are a number of ways spyware or other unwanted software can get on your system.

The most common ways are:

• Installing free software, a big danger for the small business. Most people click through software agreements when they install free software. During the installation of the software you wanted, 'additional software' is often installed. The most common programs or high risk software include music or video file sharing programs. These almost always have spyware or adware attached to them when they are downloaded.

• Visiting high risk sites which use your visit to install software. Again, a pitfall for most small businesses, especially for those who use their home PC for business and share the computer with other family members.

• Clicking on pop-up advertisements which masquerade as system messages or warnings.

• Kids are a major source of spyware infection because of the fearless way they use the computer and surf the Web. If you are a home-based business, watch your kids' use of your business computer.

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Ted Werth is the Founder and CEO of PlumChoice.
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