Self-proclaimed computer geek Matthew Conley of Savannah knows the dangers of the internet. "Basically a little program that tracks your internet surfing and sits there and reports it back to the mother company," is how he described spyware, or adware.
"Why is that a problem?" asked Conley. "Do you really want a company you don't know sitting here going oh, this...Bob Smith, he likes these websites, let's sit there and set him up with sending him to these websites so he can buy more of our stuff."
They're programs that can cause excessive pop-up advertisements and ultimately impact your computer's performance.
"I was working at Gateway and we got a P4 in that was three months old," said Conley. "And it was running slower than the Pentium I 200 megahertz I have here." He says the computer had about 1,200 pieces of spyware on it, and began running better as soon as he'd cleaned them up.
If your computer is running slower than it used to, it might be spyware clogging the system. Conley says you can think of it like a traffic jam. "It's one little small program, but it's like you have a highway. One car isn't a big deal. But you put 1,200 cars on a road built for maybe a couple hundred, you know you got a traffic jam. It can slow everything down."
If you don't watch yourself these days, just surfing the web can load your machine up with all kinds of stuff you don't want. And it goes way beyond just the annoying pop-up ads.
"There's programs out there that are built-in Trojan horses. They'll sit there and collect passwords or credit cards, you know, your identity. Identity theft is a huge deal now," said Conley. "All right, Bob Smith, let's run these numbers. Oh, he's got a forty thousand dollar credit limit. All right. Let's go get a credit card writer, go to the gas station. Thank you Bob Smith."
Savannah resident Mary-Margaret Hill knows how bad it can get. "I found a file on my computer that had my name, address, phone number, and information about my computer on it, such as my serials and hard drive specs."
It could have been a lot worse, but Hill says she refuses to make online purchases with credit cards, trusting rather online payment system PayPal.
Conley recommends regularly running spyware scanning software to detect and remove problems before they get out of hand. Here are two of the most popular: Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search & Destroy.
Other suggestions, when you come across a pop-up urging you to install software you weren't looking for: "For the most part, if you don't know what it is, don't click yes. Click no...use alternative browsers to Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla's Firefox or Opera...they prevent pop-ups and such."