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This holiday season, let Santa in, but keep the spies out

Disclosure: Our team is always looking for things we think our readers will value. We have received compensation for publishing this article.

Shopping online can bring a lot of great gifts right to your door. But with all that increased surfing, it can also bring something else you don’t want to your computer: spyware.

Some spyware can be relatively harmless – like adware or cookies that track your surfing and purchase history for marketing purposes, such as serving you relevant ads. But spyware such as Trojans and system monitors can watch everything you do at your computer and harvest personal details including social security numbers, credit card numbers and more.

Defeat the mighty Trojans

Trojans generally arrive on your computer via a download link that you’ve clicked. For example, you might get a notice that your browser is out of date and needs to be updated. When you click on the link however, you’ll actually download spyware onto your system that can be very hard to detect. What’s worse, Trojans can continue to download more malware once they settle onto your system.

If you don’t have an antivirus program to identify them, the most likely way in which you’ll notice their presence is through system slow downs and frequent crashes. Other telltale signs include unusual icons in your toolbar that you’ve not seen before or error messages that seem unrelated to your activities.

Every click you make

System monitoring software is often masked as freeware and will log every keystroke you make, every site you visit, and every program you run. Again, caution is king when deciding what to download to your machine. Even if a site looks reputable, be smart when clicking on a download that seems too good to be true, or one that appears on your machine as a pop up.

If you suspect that your computer has been infected with spyware, you really only have one choice for removing it: aggressive antivirus and antispyware software. Just like spies in the real world, spyware is created to avoid detection, so without the right software to sniff it out, it could run on your computer indefinitely.

Avast Free Antivirus is one of our top picks for preventing, detecting and removing spyware. With continuously updated databases and algorithms, this software is tops in keeping your computer clean and your data safe.

Of course, you can also take steps on your own to limit your exposure to spyware by ensuring that your browser, operating system, and software have the latest updates and security patches; setting your browser security and privacy levels higher; using extreme caution if you frequent file-sharing sites; and not clicking on pop-up ads.

Once you’ve run your antispyware software and know what type of threats existed on your computer, you may want to contact your financial institutions to change credit cards and account numbers if it turns out that your personal data was at risk. You might also want to freeze your credit through national monitoring services to thwart identity theft.

Taking these steps should ensure that your online holiday shopping will deliver gifts Santa would be proud of, while keeping the spies out in the cold.

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