Spyware and what to do about it. And, why you should care.


Hi everyone.

Last weekend, I had to help a friend of mine try and fix their computer. It seems that he went to some sites that he shouldn’t have (in the terms of spyware) and got something nasty. In the end, it messed up the computer so bad, that he couldn’t go to Windows Update, and his wife couldn’t get into chat (or anything else that required JavaScript or ActiveX). We got the computer more or less back to normal on Saturday, but in the end they had to reformat it.

I’ve had to remove spyware from a number of my coworkers computers (and recommend programs to do so for others). And a couple of weeks ago, I had to help another friend of mine remove a nasty desktop/browser hijacker that her son got while visiting a website.

So, why am I posting about this? And why should you be concerned? You’re probably thinking “They went to Porn sites” or “Well, I definitely don’t go to THOSE types of sites”. That could be true (in the case of my older friend, it was a porn site), but it’s not limited to those sites (the desktop/browser hijacker has been found on WWF related websites). Even MSN and Yahoo have some type of “ad-ware” that they offer you. Granted, it’s mainly intended to provide the banner ads on the specific page, but it’s still ad-ware.

Ok, so I may have your interest. But, now you’re wondering what options do you have? Well, you can either live in a hole by not surfing any sites at all, never go online again, or download and use some types of anti-spyware and antivirus programs. A little common sense helps, but it isn’t required.

There are a lot of programs out that claim to remove spyware from your computer. And, there are probably just as many anti-virus programs out there. So, how do you decide which ones to use? Well, if you’re already using an anti-virus program, and are satisfied with it, then go to their website and find out if they offer an anti-spyware program as well. You don’t have to use theirs, if you find something better though.

Some of the best sources for information about Spyware, and the related anti-spyware programs include PC World and Spyware Information Org. PC World recommends CounterSpy by Sunbelt Security. While I haven’t used it, I have used other SunBelt programs and like them. Plus, I’ve used a ‘sister’ of sorts to CounterSpy. Most of the definition files for CounterSpy come from a company that was called “Giant Antispyware”. I say “was” because they were bought out by Microsoft. I’ve used the Microsoft Antispyware Beta, and highly recommend it to everyone.

Be ware of sites that offer you “Free Spyware Scans” then require you to purchase their program in order to remove the spyware. Some of those (not including CounterSpy or Microsoft) may actually give you false positives, or worse yet, install spyware on your computer. You can find more information about those sites in the Spyware Information Org website.

I won’t go into great depth about the antivirus programs in this post, but I will say that you need to make sure it’s updated regularly. If you’re on broadband, I highly suggest setting the automatic updates to check hourly. You shouldn’t notice any slowdown from the check. If you’re on dialup, I would still recommend hourly or at the most every 3 to 6 hours, and you should make sure it cannot connect (dial up) on it’s own. It should definitely check while you are online though. This also applies to your spyware and firewall.

Finally, using a little common sense will help you out also. If you go to a website, and it tries to install anything (ActiveX control or other controls) refuse the installation the first time. If the site doesn’t work, then hit your Refresh button (or the F5 key on your keyboard) and install the control. This DOESN’T include Shockwave or “Flash” (Macromedia) controls, as they typically are legitimate. Also, when surfing, if your antivirus or antispyware pops up, read the information carefully. If you know the item being questioned is safe, allow it. Otherwise block it (or select the Abort Connection option). And, make sure you do a scan every day. If you leave the computer on 24/7 (which I do), configure the automatic scanning settings. If you shut the computer down when you’re finished using it, then do a scan prior to shutting down each day.

If you’re considering an antispyware, antivirus, or firewall program and can’t find anything about it, feel free to post a comment here, or e-mail me about it. I’ll check into it, and let you know what I find out. Plus, I’ll be posting information about different ones in the future.

Patrick.

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