STRAIGHT SHOOTIN COMPUTIN
by Jeff Smith
If a new toolbar or searchbar just shows up on your desktop that you didn't install, or if you get unexplained icons for gambling or adult websites (he really DOESN'T know how they got there ladies, honest), or if your web browser's start page changes all on its own, these are signs you have been infected with spyware. These can be good tip-offs that it is time to do a spyware scan.
Many of you no doubt recall the infamous comic strip Spy vs Spy from Mad Magazine where two similar but opposite enemies are locked in combat using the silliest weaponry imaginable. Spyware often reminds me of that. Like the comic strip there are two similar but different kinds of spyware. One light, one dark. The main difference is that they are not fighting each other and trying to steal each other's Top Secret documents. Instead they both fight us and the Top Secret documents in question are our personal information, and our time.
Imagine what it would be like if some marketing company developed the ability to display commercials on your TV set at any time they chose. Your very own invasive personalized endless infomercial.
Spyware does this by recording your browsing habits and recording what you type into webpages. This information about you is sent off to an internet marketing firm to create a profile on you. This profile is used to guess what kinds of pop-up ads you are likely to be receptive to. The last step is to start delivering the pop-ups to you non-stop. The marketers make money from ad buyers. This kind of spyware is also called adware.
Sounds fun, huh? And that's the lighter side of spyware.
The more malicious of spyware (also called malware) doesn't care too much about your surfing habits. They want your credit card and bank account information and all of the personal details needed to access your money. A lot of the malware out there is tied into organized crime syndicates such as the mafia. They have a lot of experience with money laundering and selling the stuff they buy with your stolen cash on black markets. Where adware can be annoying and infuriating... malware can be financially ruinous.
And unlike adware with its non-stop pop-up ads, unless you know what to look for, you might not even know that malware is even there.
I'm sure the question on everyone's mind now is how to get rid of it. Well the answer, in short, is anti-spyware utilities.
There are many spyware removal programs out there. Some cost money, and some are free. As we're not all made of money, I tend to recommend the free utilities and the two most popular free spyware removal tools out there are Ad-aware and Spybot Search & Destroy.
Ad-aware 2007 Free is free for home use. It does a good job of removing spyware threats, has a pleasing appearance and is easy to use. You can also upgrade the program for a bit of cash and instead of just removing spyware it will actively block it from getting on in the first place.
Spybot S & D is another free program for spyware removal. I found it to be very effective at removing spyware as well, though I found it slightly less user-friendly.
After you've successfully cleaned your system get Spyware Blaster. This program does not remove spyware, instead it blocks it from coming in. These programs can be found on www.DOWNLOAD.com
Unlike antivirus software, you can use multiple anti-spyware programs on the same machine without conflicts. In fact I recommend if you want to be thorough. That being said, once you have anti-spyware software, run it weekly, or whenever you notice something suspicious. And when you scan for spyware, follow it up with a virus scan as well because they often run together. Always remember to check for updates for your scanning program before you scan, if it does not do that automatically.
Never get your antivirus or anti-spyware programs from a pop-up ad. It is like buying your kids vitamins from a stranger in a back alley. There are some fake security programs that are spyware in disguise. So consider yourself warned.
Next week I'll be covering firewalls, routers, and sharing your internet connection throughout your house. That will finish up basic security and we can begin to delve into some more fun and interesting topics. Until next week, good luck and safe computing.