We are living through the death of privacy, a time when our data is harvested and shared by multiple third-parties in order to market to us more successfully. And that's the legitimate side of things. Given that these days all malware is intended to part us with money, the illiegitimate harvesting of our information is also a growth industry. Often we are tricked into giving away details, but there is also the software vector of attack: spyware.
Spyware takes many forms. Broadly speaking it is software used by cybercriminals to burrow into our PCs and laptops, to find data and pass it back to gangs in order to be used by them for criminal means, or to be sold on. You can aquire spyware when installing legitimate software, visiting dodgy websites or clicking links in unsolicited emails. You will know you have spyware when you notice your machine slowing down, or network activity is taken place when it shouldn't be.
Here we explain two ways to rid your PC or laptop of unwanted spyware. (See all security tips and tricks.)
Remove spyware from PC or laptop: remove spyware manually
Go to Control Panel in Windows and check your list of Installed Programs for items that you don't remember installing or using. In Windows 8 you'll find this in Control Panel\Programs\Programs and Features. You'll find a lot of programs in this list, and it's just possible that your spyware will be shown here (although the worst spyware hides itself with more care). Should you be able to positively identify spyware in here, highlight and click Uninstall.
Remove spyware from PC or laptop: Use antispyware software
The chances are that life just isn't that good, however, and even if the spyware looks to be deleted it will remain behind. To properly remove a spyware infection you probably need antispyware software. Virtually all internet security suites or standalone antivirus programs contain an antispyware component, and you really should have such software running on your PC or laptop. If nothing else you should be running Windows Defender, which ships with free with Windows 8, and can be installed for all other versions of Windows. (See also: How to turn on Windows Defender in Windows 8 (and XP, Vista and 7).
If you have Windows Defender or any other internet security suite installed and running you should be alerted if spyware and other potentially unwanted software tries to run or install itself on your computer. If a spyware installation has already happened, a scan of your PC or laptop should find and remove it.
If that doesn't do the trick there are a couple of options. The first is to install and run an additional, layered security tool such as Malwarebytes antimalware free. This is designed to run alongside other security software and find the things they miss. Alternatively - and this could be expensive - you can uninstall your existing security software, after disconnecting from the internet. Then install a different security suite, ideally running it from a memory stick, and scan and clean your machine. See also: How to test downloads and files with a sandbox.