Adware, spyware and computer viruses share some similarities, one of which is that all three are major nuisances for computer users. Let’s differentiate the three.

Spyware is software that does not intentionally harm your computer.

Spyware has been designed to track and record the types of websites you visit, and what you do on those sites. The goal of this type of software is to monitor your web activities and learn your likes and dislikes so that advertisers can send you unwanted e-mails, and pop-ups.

How can you tell that there is potential spyware in software? Quite easily. Have you ever downloaded software that during the install process asks for your OK to load a BHO (or browser help object) or wants to change what your start page will be, or your default search engine? This is potential spyware. The company offering the software for free is doing so, because they want you to say “OK” to having a 3rd parties software also installed on your PC. If you download something like this — no matter how tempting the free software is, ABORT the installation!

Spyware has a way of getting onto your hard drive — and staying there. It can often be very difficult to remove spyware from your PC. The best defense, is a good offence: don’t download spyware in the first place, is the best piece of advice you can be given. The second piece of advice — purchase a good spyware monitor that will actually prevent the installation of suspect or rogue applications.

Spyware also has an indisious side in that the applications could also be recording every keystroke. Visiting a secure banking website? If you’ve got spyware on your PC they could also be recording your login information.

Adware does not harm your computer, and is a more legitimate form of freeware or free software.

Some companies that provide free software may disable certain features, while others will give you a fully functioning version of the software but they will display advertising during its use. The advertising may be shown in a header or footer and will diplay typical 468×60 banner advertisements. Or they advertising may be more profound with pop-ups being shown when the program is running.

Why is this more legitimate? The developer of the software isn’t tricking you into installing any type of monitoring tool. They are normally upfront and tell you that their application is supported by advertising. They also provide a method of removing the advertising, which is usually purchasing the software for a moderate fee.

Although adware can be acceptable, you should still be cautious as you will not know if the application is tracking and reporting user information to the author of the software.

Viruses are destructive forms of software. They were purely designed and created for one purpose alone: to wreck havoc to your computer. They destroy whatever they come in contact to and will initiate self replication and infect as many components of the computer’s operating system or network as possible.

Although viruses do not have the ability to physically damage computer components, they can erase entire hard drives making it virtually impossible to ever recover the data — even if the drive were sent to data recovery experts.

The best way to prevent viruses is to purchase anti-virus software. Most anti-virus software today includes scanners to look for spyware, and adware. So there is not a need to purchase three separate tools. But having an anti-virus application is not enough, you need to ensure that it is kept up to date with the latest definition files. It is useless to have an anti-virus program that has not been updated in months. Most programs do automatic checks, and update in the background.