I’ve been around computers my entire career – I got started in the DOS world and remember using 8″ floppy disks.  Because I spend most of my day working with a computer, I have become the local “tech support” for Friends and Family (FNF).

Lately, I’ve been getting more complaints about “sneaky-ware” that takes over the FNF computers.  This is the “extra surprise” that get installed when you download one of the popular free-ware programs.   The consequence is either (1) spyware which slows down your computer (2) browser hijacked which gives you a funky home page and wonky search results (3) hijacked search engine or (4) wacky toolbars installed in your browser, or (5) all of the above.

Here are some tips to minimize or avoid the huge annoyance of the sneaky-ware:

(1)  Download Sites. If you are looking for popular freeware, try to download from the “owner” website instead of a third-party website.  For example, if you are installing PDF Creator, go to the PDFForge website — don’t just search for “PDF Creator” and click on the first result you see.  The first result (and second – and third!) is usually a commercial third-party website, and is likely to have annoying “surprises” in the download.  Check the URL before you click.

(2)  Pay Attention to the Installation. When you download and install software, don’t just click through the windows without reading them.  If there is sneaky-ware, it often has a “check the box” which will allow you to de-select installation of unfamiliar software or toolbars.  DON’T allow these extras to install just because you fail to un-check a box.

(3)  Watch Apps. Desktop, tablet, or phone apps are all prone to adware, spyware, or browser hijacking.  If you install an application that seems to consume memory or slow down your device, uninstall it and see if that takes care of the problem.

(4) Research before installing. There have been many times when I’ve researched an issue for a a FNF, only to discover that there are a lot of comments and complaints which flag the very issue I’m trying to remove.  If you are interested in freeware that is unfamiliar to you, take a moment to research “remove [name of software]” or “issues with [name of software].”  You may find that there are hidden toolbars, hijacked homepage or hijacked browser issues with the software.

None of these tips are perfect solutions, and even the most careful user can get caught with annoying and unwanted software.

What if it’s too late!? If you have already downloaded and installed software with annoying consequences, or if you have tried (and failed) to remove the offender, all is not lost, but you may have some work to do.  Sometimes, you can remove or disable the software, yourself, but very aggressive sneaky-ware might require professional assistance.  Identify the issue (unwanted toolbar, hijacked search engine, hijacked browser) and research options for removal.  Try the easy fixes, yourself, then find a qualified friend or professional to help.   I have good friend who has graciously responded to my frantic emails and texts when I’ve been bitten by the sneaky-ware bug, and she has been a life-saver (Thanks, B!).

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