Help: My Computer Has Become Really Slow

September 8, 2004

Author: Sean Stidman

The Symptoms | The Problem | The Solution | More Information

I receive phone calls on a regular basis from friends and family with all sorts of computer problems.  Over the past year, the number of such calls has greatly increased.  Before the friend has even started to describe the symptoms, I usually know what's going on.  That's because the issue has been the same every time.  People frequently think their computer has a virus, but in fact their computer is infected with spyware or adware (or both).

The Symptoms

Has your computer been experiencing any of the following symptoms?

The Problem

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, your computer has almost certainly been struck by spyware, adware or both.  What are those, you ask?
Software that sits on your computer watching everything you do.  That information is then transmitted over the Internet and stored in a database.  The companies who wrote this software have many reasons for doing so ranging from stealing your passwords, obtaining your credit card information or building a detailed profile about you to be used for sending you unsolicited commercial e-mail (known as "UCE" or "Spam").
Software that modifies your browser in several ways.  Your home page is usually changed to some strange website.  You will receive an alarming number of popup advertisements, much more than when you normally surf the web.  When you try to go to a particular website, you might find that the browser mysteriously goes to a different website against your wishes.

Wondering how this software got on your computer?  These uninvited guests frequently get installed when you install other software on your computer.  Did you see an online advertisement for a cute screensaver and then install it?  If so, the spyware or adware might have been bundled with the screensaver.  Another typical method of infection occurs when you visit a web site and a popup window appears that tries to trick you into installing some software.  Typical tricks include telling you that a system problem has been detected such as a virus or a slow connection.  Other tricks include offering you free software with some useful functionality, such as a cute screensaver or a fancy calendar.

The Solution

As with most things, prevention is the best medicine.  Do not install software on your computer unless you know for certain it does not contain adware or spyware.  If you are being offered free software that you have never heard of before, just assume it includes a nasty attachment.  And if you are visiting a website and a popup window tells you a problem has been detected with your computer, don't believe it.  No website has the ability to detect problems with your PC remotely unless you first intenionally download diagnostic software.

If you are reading this page, however, chances are you are beyond the prevention stage.  Since the beginning of 2004, this problem has become epidemic.  The good news is that this problem has become so prevalent that numerous people have started writing software to counteract the problem.  Some good samaritans have even written software that they give away for free!  Here are some good ones to consider:
Spybot Search & Destroy
Adware and spyware.
Pop-up Blocker
Adware and spyware.
Adware and spyware.

To download any of the above software, click on the name.  Some of the free programs also offer non-free version that have more protection features.  None of these programs are able to get rid of all nuisance software, so you would be wise to install several of them.  No matter which of the above software you choose, keep in mind that they are constantly being updated in order to keep up with the growing number of spyware and adware programs.  You should make sure to download the latest version.  If the spyware/adware removal software does not solve your problem, it is quite likely that a future version will, so you might wait a few weeks and try again.  Beware that there are now programs out there that claim to remove nuisance software, but in fact install nuisance software.  One example is a program called "SpyBan".  Stick with the list above and you should be okay.

Another option to help reduce the spyware problem is to try a different browser.  Most of the nuisance programs target the Internet Explorer web browser.  Using a different web browser frequently solves the problems caused by spyware and adware.  Here are some alternative browsers:

Very fast browser.  Has a built-in pop-up blocker.  This browser, written by the same folks who wrote the Mozilla web browser, will eventually replace Mozilla.  It does not come with an e-mail client, so the download is smaller and the software runs noticably faster than all other browsers.  This product is still under development, so it is possible that it might have trouble with some web sites.  However, I have not found a website yet that did not work with Firefox.
Used to be called "Netscape".  Comes with a nice e-mail client.  You should consider the newer software from this company, Firefox (see above).
$39 Very fast browser.  Has a built-in pop-up blocker.

If you find that you are unable to solve the problem on your own, another option is to consider getting professional help.  I usually consider computer stores to be as bad as car mechanics, so I am reluctant to recommend one. If you have a friend who is knowledgable about computers, you might ask them to help out.  If not, you could try Best Buy or MicroCenter.  They might tell you that your computer has a virus, but they are only saying that because they think you are too dumb to know the terms "spyware" or "adware".

More Information

If you want to read more about this problem, here are some useful links: