Friday, September 7, 2007

#1 Viruses and Spyware

Straight Shootin Computin

Hello and welcome to a new and (hopefully) exciting feature of the Russell Register.

Here I will be writing to help you to understand and protect the delightful and scary machine that sits there only using up a small percentage of its capabilities. No, I'm not talking about your brain, I'm talking about your computer.

Perhaps you got it to play games or perhaps to sell and buy on ebay, or just to keep in touch with distant friends, or maybe just because everyone else has one. Chances are, you're not doing and enjoying all that you could be doing and enjoying with it. I hope to alleviate this.

In coming installments we will be addressing many different topics relevant to computing in this day and age. What you can expect YOUR hardware to be capable of doing. How to tell when something is wrong, and the most immediate "first aid" procedures so you don't make it worse.

I hope to be your personal guide through the digital domain and you are welcome to email me any questions you may have, I cannot promise a fast response, but I will try to respond to everyone. If it is an emergency, please let me know that it is and I will try to be more diligent in answering.

Please be aware that any emails/questions may be reprinted here, in whole or in part, and that contributions become property of the Russell Register.

So for our first installment, I want to talk about viruses and spyware.

Many people speak about viruses and spyware as though they are one and the same thing, but this is not true. Often they work in tandem with each other and give your PC a underhanded double-whammy, but they are not in fact the same thing. Often a virus will install spyware (and other viruses) and vice versa. Think of it as a well-planned comprehensive package just designed to give you grief.

Viruses are small snippets of computer code that are not really complete files. They infect your machine by appending themselves to other files that will be run. Think of it like the P.S. area of a letter from your sweetie. But instead of "P.S I love you" its more like "P.S. I'm deleting important files and I'm stealing all your passwords and credit card information."

Spyware (also called malware or adware) is full-fledged programs designed to do much the same thing. Spyware is often downloaded by mistake by people looking for legitimate programs. Spyware's biggest avenue of infection are popup-ads, although you can also contract it by just going to malicious websites whereupon spyware automatically installs itself. When you see popup ads that tell you that you are infected or that you need to download an "internet optimizer" to speed up your internet connection, those are likely the culprits. When you see popups that promise to solve all your problems, take it with a grain of salt. Or more appropriately, take it with a shaker-full of salt, because they're bunk. You don't just believe any adverstisements you see in other places, online ads are no different. If you're curious about a program, ask a friend. Offline word of mouth is still very valid in the online world. Don't just download and install any old thing you see that has flashy ads and sounds like the best thing since sliced bread. That's the fastest and surest way to lose the use of your computer altogether. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your homework.

Spyware, like viruses can do anything from harmlessly displaying a few more unwanted ads (even when you're not surfing the web) to full-out waging war on your personal information.

Because they are different from each other in scope and form, the two threats take different steps to prevent, remove and repair.

In the next installment we will be addressing how to detect, prevent and remove viruses and even some instances where removing them ISN'T the best immediate course. Until then, good luck and safe computing.

Jeff Smith


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