North Fork Media



Spyware, Scumware, Adware, and You.

[Note: This is a longer, annotated version of an Article that first appeared in the Lakeshore Country Journal on 5-5-03]

Do you get pop-up windows when you do searches on Google or even if you're not using the Internet at all? Is Bonzi your buddy? Is there a Gator lurking in the backwaters of your PC? If, so, you probably have gotten a case of Spyware.

I've been seeing a lot of clients with Internet security problems lately, so I am going to tell you about some resources that can make your computing more comfortable and your business safer.

Computer viruses have been around for years, but spyware is new and not very many people know how to deal with it or even recognize that it exists on their systems.

Here's a short list of the main threats to your computing peace of mind:

"Spyware" is a name for a variety of different types of Internet scum that can alternately violate your privacy, crash your PC, or waste your time. Some of them can even steal advertising money from Web site owners.

Spyware programs install along with other programs that are downloaded from the Web. Utilities used for downloading Youtube videos, converting video files, saving stuff from your iphone, burning DVDs and music sharing programs almost always install spyware along with themselves. Spyware programs don't always tell you they are installing along with the program that you downloaded, they do it silently. Sometimes they include a checkbox that would allow a person to choose not to install the possibly unwanted programs (PUPS) but these are not always obvious and people frequently don't read installation dialogue boxes.

Spyware will flash ads when you are not using the program that it belongs to. It will change your home page, or change your search page. It will collect demographic information about you, your surfing habits, the contents of your computer, and send it to some third party out on the Internet. It is often poorly written software and will cause your PC to crash. Some spyware has autoupdate or autoinstall features that can secretly download and install anything it likes on your system.

Do a quick scan of your system now! Click Here.
(requires Internet Explorer...but if you don't have IE then you are less likely to get PC pests anyhow.)

Hackers: the kind we are worried about will use your PC as a launchpad for viruses and attacks on other computers. Hackers can use Viruses or Spyware to gain "backdoor" access to your computers. This means that they can get into your PC to upload/download files, delete files, steal passwords, run programs, or even start an FTP server to allow other people to access your PC!


Viruses: Are small programs that make copies of themselves. Lots and lots of copies of themselves. That's why they call them viruses. They can also do things to your computer. Effects can be benign or can destroy your work. Most often the darn things transmit themselves by email. They can email themselves from anyone who has your email address anywhere on their computer. Microsoft Office documents are another common host. Can also be spread via floppy disks or CD's.

Viruses come in several different varieties. Worms(1, 2), trojans(Happy99, 1, 2), mass mailers(Melissa, 1), slow mailers(kak worm, 1), polymorphic(Klez, 1, 2), macro(1, 2) and boot sector(1, 2). Strictly speaking they aren't all considered to be viruses, per se, but I am going to lump 'em all together.

(Sorry if these links are out of date. They keep changing on me.)

Usually just having an antivirus program installed on your PC will keep you safe, provided you update the program at least once a week! You have to update it regularly because new viruses are being created every day and updating is the only sure way your Antivirus program can detect new viruses.

Oh My!

Here is a minimal list of resources that you need to protect yourself from the bad guys out there. Three out of four can be downloaded free for home use. You need all four.

Make sure you have your computer's firewall turned on.

Make sure you install updates on your mobile devices and computers.

Make sure you have an anti-virus on your computer such as Avira. Perhaps your internet provider offers a free antivirus. Check and see...this is pretty common.

Keep Adobe Flash, Java, Adobe Acrobat and Office programs all updated.

If your home Wifi router has a firewall, turn it on.

Some other important security precautions:

Don't re-use passwords!! Adobe, LinkedIn and other major corporations have had user account information stolen. Once the crackers get a batch of users, they run them through a cracking machine and then they get a nice list of email accounts and passwords. Then they take those and try to log into other places with them. So, they'll take your LinkedIn login info and try to use it at all the banks, Facebook, Gmail or Steam. So if you re-used a password, then the crackers get all your accts that used that password.

Use good passwords. A good password is one that cannot be guessed by a machine that can try to guess 4 billion passwords per second.

Sounds like that might be hard? Not really.

  1. Password managers make it much easier to create and use good passwords. Check out LastPass and 1Password.
  2. If you don't want to figure out how to use some new software, even though it is easy, then you can write them in a book you keep in your desk drawer. Seriously. If someone is in your house, looking in your desk drawers then you have bigger problems than just having good passwords.
  3. You don't need a crazy password like R4%hwHW?cX09 to beat a cracker.
  4. You can make a good password by making it long enough and with some variation in it. How long? 12 characters. How much variation? A couple different types of character. Like, a punctuation mark or two and a capitol letter or two.
  5. Don't use names and dates. Crackers know about these.
  6. Try to avoid using whole words.

You can use the first letters of a phrase, like so:

My mama told me to pick the very best one and you are not it becomes Mmtmtptvboayani

Stick a punctuation mark in there and a number and you have a good password that is easy to remember.


You can use short words, and again, add some different character types. So something like: correct-horse.baTTery/staple

Don't use airport or coffee shop Wifi without a VPN. These Wifi access points are usually not secure and anyone sharing the same Wifi can see everything that everyone is doing. I use Private Internet Access VPN which is cheap and covers 5 devices. I've also heard good things about Express VPN.

Copyright 2017 North Fork Media Group. Permission to use is granted as long as text is not edited and credit is given to the author, North Fork Media.

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P.O. Box 2515
Columbia Falls MT 59912