I “repaired” a PC this weekend. Actually it wasn’t much of a repair. It had problems: disk errors, applications crashed a lot, the computer crashed a lot, startup times were slow, and at times the computer was really unresponsive.

At first I suspected viruses, but I quickly found the virus software was up to date, which was a good thing.

The problem was spyware.I found about 70 instances of it, which is right about average, depending on who you believe. I used Bazooka, Ad-Aware, and Spybot Search & Destroy (all free for personal use). It was necessary to use all three, because each found something the others had missed. I Bazooka to get an overview of the system since it’s fast. But I don’t do anything with the results since it’s not automatic. Then I run Spybot S&D first, since it’s automatic and faster than Ad-Aware. I run Ad-Aware to get what Spybot S&D misses, and last, I run Bazooka again and manually clean up anything it finds, which will hopefully only be two or three things.

The system could never finish a disk scan or a defrag, but after eliminating the spyware it could do it just fine. The system was too busy spying to do real work. I found disk errors, but all of it was consistent with a computer that crashed a lot.

I really wonder how many computer problems these days would go away if it wasn’t for this junk.

Incidentally, it took me three hours to get rid of all of it and then fix the damage it had wrought.

I recommended the owner ditch Internet Explorer, especially since he had Netscape 7.1 installed. With no ActiveX and no close ties to the OS, it’s a lot harder for a web site to install something without you knowing about it if you’re using a non-IE browser. Use IE just for Windows Update and nothing else. I also should have told him not to install free software, period, unless it’s licensed under either the GPL or a BSD license.

Just by following those two rules, I’ve been spyware-free for years.