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. Music sharing programs such as Kazaa, Grokster, Limewire, Morpheus and WinMX almost always install spyware along with themselves. Spyware programs don't tell you they are installing along with the program that you downloaded, they do it silently.
Spyware will flash ads when you are not using the program that it belongs to. 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 will change your homepage and your search preferences. 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
Counterexploitation has a list of spywarez/adware and their effects.
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.
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.
Mozilla: a web browser, like Internet Explorer. Blocks Pop up windows, third party cookies, some flashing ads. AOL uses Mozilla to make Netscape. In fact, Netscape is Mozilla with a different cover. Runs slowly on older computers (Pre 1999 or less than a Pentium II or so).
Zone Alarm: a software firewall. Keeps hackers out of your system and alerts you if a rogue program on your PC tries to connect to the Internet without your permission. Some of these spyware programs try to send the info they've collected from you and your computer back to the mothership. Zonealarm makes every program get your permission before they are allowed to connect to the Internet. I've been using Zonealarm for years.
If you are sharing you internet connection among several computers at your business, you a probably using a router. The router has a firewall built into it, or it should. But this firewall needs to be updated. Some router manufacturers allow you to dowload updaes from their web sites, others have an update feature built into the router itself. Look in your intruction manual for clues, or go to the manufacturers web site.
Here's a page on Linksys' site that allows you to look for updates. (5-7-04)
Spybot Search and Destroy: Removes a wide range of junk from your PC including: spyware, scumware, dialers, trojans and assorted other bugs in your system. Gets rid of Adware that throws pop-up windows. The author asks for a donation if you download. Also download AdAware to get a second opinion and make sure you got rid of it all.
An antivirus program: This is the only one that can't
be had for free. I use eTrust
and am quite happy with its price and performance. It has a small footprint
on your computer: 7MB of disk space and 2MB of RAM. Wilders.org
has a set of Antivirus
tool reviews that you might want to take look at. They seem to like
quite a lot.
Copyright 2002 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.
©North Fork Media 2002
P.O. Box 2515
Columbia Falls MT 59912