Combat Computer Spyware!
An AntiSpyware Program Isn’t Enough
By Jim Shutes
Spyware has become an epidemic on the Internet. A lot of computer users have Spyware and don’t even know they have it, much less how to get rid of it. If your computer has been taking you to websites that you don’t want to go to, or if you get pop-ups when you aren’t even on the Internet, or if your computer has been running extremely slowly lately, for no reason, you probably have Spyware.
So what, exactly, is Spyware? Spyware is a wide range of benign to malicious programs that get unknowingly downloaded and/or installed on your computer and perform various tasks. They are similar to viruses, but antivirus software doesn’t detect these little bugs. Spyware can be in many forms, from basic information-gathering applets to intelligent, self-protecting and controlling programs.
Primarily, the intent of Spyware is to collect information about your Internet-browsing habits and report that information back to the home base, where it is sold for advertising purposes. In doing so, some of your Internet connection bandwidth is taken up in constantly sending this information. And if you only have a dial-up connection, I have seen the entire dial-up connection used just for this purpose, leaving nothing for the paying customer with which to surf.
Still, other types of Spyware actually take over your Internet-browsing experience and force you to go to websites that advertise for the makers of the Spyware (or their customers), and no matter how many times you close the windows, they keep coming back. They are like pop-ups that won’t go away. And a lot of times, these windows can appear even before getting on the Internet. This should be illegal!
So what can be done about Spyware? Well, if it is caught in time, a user can install AntiSpyware software to get rid of the Spyware. And as a preventative measure, AntiSpyware software should be installed BEFORE getting Spyware and the computer should be scanned on a regular basis for Spyware.
On all of the computers that I setup, I install two different AntiSpyware programs: AdAware SE and SpyBot. These two programs are highly recommended by TechTV (G4) and other computer authorities (including my own research on Spyware) and work very well together. They compliment each other and catch Spyware that the other misses, but together, do a very good job.
SpyBot is not only a good program for getting rid of Spyware, but also as a preventative Spyware-catcher. It sits there and looks for known Spyware coming into your system, as well as suspicious-looking content. If you use the Tea-Timer feature, it can be a little annoying, but ANY suspicious-looking program, trying to be installed on your system, is flagged and your permission is asked for it to be installed (now and always). If you don’t have this program installed on your computer, get it NOW by downloading HERE… http://www.lapeertechgroup.com/downloads.asp Download all updates and run the Immunize option a couple of times (for preventative purposes). Scan with it every day if you can.
AdAware SE has a little better Spyware database in it, but is not setup as a preventative AntiSpyware program. It does do a good job when you keep up on the updates and manually scan your system with AdAware. If you don’t have this program on your computer, get it NOW by downloading HERE… http://www.lapeertechgroup.com/downloads.asp Download all updates and run the Smart Scan daily (if not, at least weekly).
If, after downloading and installing, updating, and running both of these AntiSpyware program, you still can’t get rid of your Spyware, you may need to enlist the services of a professional. Some Spyware is so intelligent that it looks to see if AntiSpyware programs delete the Spyware part of its programming and, if it’s gone, reinserts it back in place. This can be very frustrating for the user (and in some cases, even for the professional). There are stronger measures that can be taken to get rid of the Spyware, in cases like this, but can be very devastating to the user’s computer, if not handled perfectly. At this point, leave it to the professional. Call a local computer repair company and have them come out to your home or business and get rid of the Spyware for you.
In some cases, when the Spyware has become too entwined into your system, even a computer repair technician can’t get rid of the Spyware. At this point, it is better to just backup only what you need and have the operating system reinstalled. Believe me, when your computer gets to this point, you don’t want to just put a “band-aid” on it. Just start from scratch with a clean system. It’s the best way to go.
Since Spyware is similar to viruses, a few Spyware can be caught by a good AntiVirus program. Some Spyware are actually Trojan Horses (hacker’s worms) that get onto your computers and allow the hackers to get into your computer (without you knowing it) and doing malicious-type things to it. They can take over your computer, erase your hard drive, use your computer as a server, give you a bunch of illegal music or programs and tell all of their friends to download it all from you – leaving you holding the bag and supplying the computer space and bandwidth for their hobby. So, protect yourself with a good AntiVirus program. One of my favorites is AVG. It is not only a really good AntiVirus program, but it is also FREE! If you don’t have any AntiVirus software on your computer, get AVG AntiVirus NOW by downloading HERE… http://www.lapeertechgroup.com/downloads.asp If you already have an AntiVirus program, and you want to use AVG instead, do NOT install AVG. First, uninstall your current AntiVirus program, reboot and install AVG. You do NOT want to have two AntiVirus programs installed at the same time. They will work against each other and can cause problems.
So can a person avoid getting Spyware? Not entirely, but if you know where not to go, you can definitely slow it down. You can get Spyware from ANYwhere! However, most of the Spyware comes as a trade-off for FREE stuff. If you read the license agreement (which no one does) of most FREE stuff, you will be amazed that, in most cases, you are giving them permission to give you Spyware (but not in those words). Read all license agreements before installing anything (I know, I couldn’t even say that with a straight face). It will save you a lot of grief. If you are like me, and you don’t read all of the legal stuff whenever installing anything, here are some rules of thumb to help avoid the bulk of Spyware.
•Be suspicious of FREE Stuff – NOTHING is FREE. If it is FREE, then you are giving away something. Read and find out what it is that you are giving away. Chances are, you are installing Spyware with the FREE game, music, or program.
•A lot of the websites that you can play FREE games online, contain Spyware that automatically install on your computer, without you knowing it. Some even say that in order to play their games, or get their FREE stuff, you must answer YES to the following question, or allow a small program to be installed, in order to play the game. Just say NO. Don’t do it. It contains Spyware.
•If you do searches online for FREE stuff, just by going to most of these websites, you get Spyware downloaded to your system. Within minutes, you will notice that you start to get pop-ups that won’t quit, and you start getting taken to websites you don’t want to go to. And even when you close all of your browser windows, other windows open up. Now you’ve done it! You have Spyware!
•Pornography is a BIG place to get Spyware. Avoid porn sites. It’s not worth it.
•Another place to get Spyware is when you do searches for cracks for games and programs, to get FREE serial numbers and fixes to illegally use programs and games for FREE. Spyware is rampant at these websites. Stay away!
•A lot of media players have Spyware built into them, too. I don’t want to name any names, for fear of “big brother”, but after installing any type of audio or video players, run your AntiSpyware program to scan your system. You will most likely find Spyware. Choose to delete the Spyware and then you can safely use your media player.
•There are several FREE programs that utilize the banner method of advertising, to pay for the FREE program that they are handing out. A lot of these types of programs still include Spyware in their programs. Watch for this. After installing any questionable programs (especially if they are FREE), always do an AntiSpyware scan of your system.
•And finally, you can get Spyware from even reputable websites in newsgroup and forum sections, and even from certain search engines (again, without naming any names). To find out where you are getting your Spyware, install SpyBot, run the Immunize feature a couple of times, and then on the Immunize page (in the pull-down menu near the bottom) choose to “Display Dialog When Blocking”. SpyBot will tell you, in real-time, as it is finding Spyware that is attempting to install on your system. Just by going to certain websites (or just certain pages on a particular website) you can have Spyware installed on your system, without your knowledge. SpyBot will alert you when this is happening and tells you that it is blocking it. You will be amazed where this happens. And by doing this, it helps you steer clear of these websites.
Another way to protect your computer against attacks is by having a firewall. And if you think that Windows XP’s built-in firewall is enough, tell that to the hackers that laugh as they walk passed it and into your computer! If you have high-speed Internet (DSL, CableModem, Satellite, Wireless, etc.), then you NEED a hardware firewall. A software firewall is a firewall program that resides on each of your computers on your network and tries to keep out attackers, by blocking certain ports and using filters to try to determine who can get in and who shouldn’t be allowed access. A hardware firewall is a router (a piece of hardware; a box) that sits between all of your computers on your network and the Internet. This is the best way to keep out attacks, since your computers can’t even be found on the Internet (because of the router putting you on a different network). Instead of your computer’s processor working to repel attackers that found your computer on the Internet, the router does all of the work for you and bounces the attacks back, before they ever get to your computer. This is your BEST defense from Internet attacks. However, a hardware firewall does NOT protect you against getting Spyware or Viruses. Since most Spyware and Viruses are acquired by the user (and not an outside attack) either by downloading them, installing a program with them, or opening email with them, a firewall won’t protect against these threats. A firewall must be used as one part of a larger prevention package.
A good consumer router (hardware firewall) only costs about $50 – $100 and can be picked up from your local computer store. If you only have one computer, it is pretty simple to setup yourself. If you have a LAN (local area network) of computers, you may want to hire a professional to help set you up.
And finally, don’t use a computer on the Internet without a good Pop-up Blocker. Part of Spyware are Pop-ups. A good Pop-up Blocker will work in conjunction with AntiSpyware to keep the Spyware at bay. Some Spyware will automatically keep launching new browser windows of websites they want you to visit. A Pop-Up Blocker will slow, or even stop, this from happening. Pop-ups can be so annoying. For every window you close, a few more open up. Again, this should be illegal! I like to use Zero Pop-up. It isn’t FREE, but unlike some Pop-up Blockers, it doesn’t have to be trained (meaning, whenever you get an unwanted pop-up, you tell it not to show it in the future, and eventually build a “black list” of unwanted pop-ups not to show). With Zero Pop-up, you can also block Messenger messages, banner ads, floating ads, and other things. I highly recommend it. You can download a FREE trial HERE… http://www.lapeertechgroup.com/downloads.asp
To combat Spyware, you must incorporate an entire prevention scheme, made up of AntiSpyware programs, an AntiVirus program, a Hardware (not software) Firewall or Router, a good Pop-up Killer, and also be aware of where you can get Spyware and Viruses, and avoid these programs, emails, and websites. And it isn’t enough to install all of this, but also keep current on all updates and definitions, and run regular scans of your system (daily, if you can, if not, weekly).
And if your computer is already too far gone to start your own prevention scheme, hire a professional to set it up for you. Sometimes, spending a little money to have a fresh installation and preventative measures installed is well worth it, to avoid the headaches, hassles and downtime incurred with these types of threats. Times have changed since the days when all you needed was a simple AntiVirus program. Today, technology has advanced such that a punk computer geek can sit at home and cause lots of problems on YOUR home or business computer(s) and can cost you lots of time and money, trying to stay ahead of all of the problems. Get your prevention scheme in place TODAY!
Good luck. I hope this article has helped you. If you live in the Lapeer, Genesee, or Tuscola County, Michigan areas, and would like an IT Professional to setup your Prevention Scheme in your home or business, please contact Lapeer Tech Group at (810) 793-1093, or visit our website at www.LapeerTechGroup.com. You can email us at info@LapeerTechGroup.com.
About the Author
I have worked in the IT field since 1989 and hold several Microsoft certifications. I am a network administrator and owner and operator of Lapeer Tech Group, located in Columbiaville, Michigan (just outside of Lapeer). During these years, I have supported both Macs and PCs, am an accomplished graphic and web designer, and have had the opportunity to support 2nd and 3rd level enterprise networks for GM, EDS, Delphi and Delco.
Written by: Jim Shutes