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What's the difference between a virus and spyware?

Both are considered malicious software, or "malware." Both can steal information and cause havoc with the performance of a computer.

A virus wants to infect your computer and spread to as many other computers as possible. Viruses are sometimes created to cause a major stir, or to bring attention to the creator, as they can deny service to websites and erase important file systems. Other viruses may send out spam emails or fake social media posts in your name that contain links that can infect others.

Spyware tends to be a more common issue for personal computers. It generally wants your computer to keep working so it can embed itself and track your usage or get you to visit specific websites through pop-up ads.

There is also something more vicious called ransomware that can lock you out of your computer or important files until you pay a sum of money.

Can Geek Squad help with viruses and spyware? What about ransomware?

Geek Squad Agents have the tools and expertise to take care of nearly any virus and spyware. They can also diagnose if there are other issues with your computer that are causing the problems, including hardware issues.

For ransomware, there are things Geek Squad can do to help, including restoring your system to a previous point in time, if possible. However, with very sophisticated ransomware, it may be necessary to wipe your hard drive clean. It's important to regularly back up your important files, as data can be lost in the process of dealing with ransomware.

How do computers get viruses or spyware?

Typically, they can enter when you download or install an infected program or infected pirated music/movies/software, or through links and attachments in emails. They can also enter when you get a random pop-up window saying you have a virus, and you click on the Get Help Now link.

How can I avoid getting a virus or spyware?

Smart internet habits are key. Don't click on links or attachments in emails or on social media that just don't feel right or that seem too good to be true. If you get an email or see a post from a friend that seems out of character and voice, do not click on anything within it.

Always pay attention to where emails are coming from, as some are disguised as coming from reputable companies, including Best Buy. Do not open emails with poor grammar, spelling mistakes or dramatic alert language. If you've opened an email that seems legitimate and you see these things, or the sender's email address is anonymous or doesn't match what you would expect from the company, do not click on anything. If you need to confirm whether the email is real, you can always contact the company by searching for their official website or phone number and ask if the email is legitimate.

Each time that you download pirated music, movies and software, you are exposing yourself to a potential virus or spyware.

Also, if an outside source calls you out of the blue and asks for access to your computer, do not allow it. No reputable company will call you and ask to gain access to your computer without you contacting them first.

If you don't have antivirus software, you may not even realize you have a virus. Viruses usually embed themselves deeply in your computer, and if they are sending out spam in your name, you'll have to notice it or be notified by friends to realize what's going on. Other viruses will slow or disrupt your computer's performance in unusual ways, or lock you out from accessing certain files.

Spyware can often appear as constant, unwanted pop-ups, even when you're not browsing the internet. You may notice that settings have changed and you're unable to change them back, or you may see new components in your browser that you never downloaded. You may also experience slow or unusual computer performance, including frequent error pages and crashes.

Having updated antivirus and spyware software on your computer is critical to avoiding these kinds of infections. The software can alert you when it detects or blocks a potentially dangerous file, software or website. It can also keep your system healthy by scanning for malware and removing it.