Ask the Expert

Best practices for preventing pop-ups and spyware

I am trying to determine which software to use/buy to stop the numerous and constant pop-ups from appearing on my screen. I also want to stop spyware from getting into my computer. What is your recommendation at this time and why?
Pop-ups are indeed annoying. Preventing them depends on which browser you use. Currently I use Firefox as my primary browser because I like the tabbed browsing capabilities. At the time I switched, it also had the welcomed benefit of stopping pretty much all pop-ups. This is no longer the case, however, as advertisers have recognized that Firefox is gaining more users. As a result I now find some sites that Internet Explorer won't display as a pop-up but Firefox will and vice versa.

For Firefox I recommend simply installing using the default method and then adding the adblock extension, which stops probably 95 to 99% of the pop-ups I would normally get. For Internet Explorer I recommend moving to Windows XP if you haven't already and applying Service Pack 2. I also use the Google toolbar to block pop-ups. Like Firefox, these two steps prevent probably 95 to 99% of the pop-ups I would normally get. There are 3rd party pop-up blockers, many of which charge for their services, but since I've been satisfied with the above, I haven't really looked into them.

Spyware is a bit trickier. I think the first step to preventing spyware is to control the allocation of cookies in your Web browser and be careful when you browse. In many cases I've found that the sites that attempt to install spyware are sites I probably shouldn't be on (certainly not at work) in the first place. You should also implement a 3rd party firewall product that can prevent spyware (the default Windows Firewall is not capable of this). I recommend the following:

Finally, Microsoft has placed into beta a Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware application. You can find details about it at

Additionally, they have produced a nice "Spyware Prevention FAQ" located at

Good luck!

This was first published in February 2005

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