Monday, December 17, 2007

SSC #48 Viruses and Spyware Revisited

by Jeff Smith

One of the problems I'm finding about my articles is that I covered most of the really important things early on. This means that those of you who jumped onboard a little later may have missed some of the really good stuff.

I am still coming across people with either no antivirus software at all, or else out-of-date antivirus software, which is just as bad. So in the interest of helping those of you who may have only recently started reading my articles, this week I'm reprinting snippets from a couple of the early ones.


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."

For easy and thorough virus removal, I recommend AVAST Home Edition found for FREE at It updates itself regularly whenever an internet connection is present. So if you're a dial-up user keep that in mind if your speed is slow for a few minutes after you first connect. It scans email clients, all running processes, protects your web browser, scans all downloads (even from p2p), and you can scan any new files by right clicking them.

Next time you see an alert from your antivirus program, take note of the location of the infected file. If you see C:\WINDOWS\ as part of the file's location then it could be an important system file. Google the name of the file to see if it is a legit windows file. If not delete it. If it is important, try quarantining it or replacing the file from a backup. If all else fails, try to use system restore to rewind to before the infection occurred.

Learn to know when you're out of your depth. If it is a business PC or contains valuable irreplaceable data ask the help of a more experienced friend or seek professional help before taking shots in the dark. Be aware that the restore disks you probably received with your computer will often wipe everything before reinstalling Windows, you probably don't want that. Often valuable data is lost by repair attempts of the inexperienced. If you don't know what you're doing, talk to someone who does.

Spyware (also called malware or adware) is full-fledged programs designed to do much the same things that viruses do. The difference is that while viruses are just snippets of code, spyware is actually complete programs. Spyware is often downloaded by mistake by people looking for legitimate programs. Spyware's biggest avenue of infection are malicious websites whereupon spyware automatically installs itself via ActiveX controls. 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 usually fake. You don't just believe any advertisements you see in other places, online ads are no different. If you're curious about a program, ask a friend, preferably one who knows more than you. 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. 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.
he 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

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.


Hope that helps someone...

Til next time, stay safe!

phone: (606) 218 - 4088 (before 8pm please)

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Monday, December 10, 2007

SSC #47 Remote Access

by Jeff Smith

    There are lots of reasons why a person might want to access their computer remotely.  Perhaps you are traveling out of town and you left your driving directions at home on your desktop.  Or perhaps you forgot to start downloading the next episode of Dexter before you left and you want to watch it as soon as you get home.  Or perhaps you're running low on computer monitors and you want to make a headless server that you can control via another computer on your network.  The possible reasons for remote controlling your computer are diverse and numerous. 

    Fortunately, the means to do so are also diverse and numerous.

    Remote controlling your computer can take many paths and varying levels of complexity.  There are solutions that require you to have software installed on both machines, such as VNC or PC Anywhere.  These are about the best experience for usability because they are both relatively lightweight and don't take a lot of system resources to run.  If you are an Ubuntu user, you already have VNC installed.  You'll find it under System>Preferences>Remote Desktop. 

    Either of these two programs will allow you to control your mouse and keyboard on the remote machine as though you were sitting in front of it.  You will be able to see the desktop and any programs you have up.  Take note that you cannot watch video from the remote machine across this, nor can you hear sounds or music.  3D games are off-limits as well.  But you can open documents, change settings, and do normal every day stuff as though you were sitting in front of your home machine.

    The same rules apply when using the QnextMyPC feature of Qnext.  This application is just about an internet Swiss Army Knife.  Combining instant messaging using 5 major networks, file transfers of unlimited size as well as Java based remote control features, this program has got something for you.  Its a little heavy on the resources, but if you can run it, the QnextMyPC feature will enable you to control your desktop from any Java enabled web browser.  Even on some phones!  This one is the easiest to set up, and the most readily accessed.  You don't need to install any software on the controller end, just browse to and log into your desktop at home. 

    Microsoft also has a remote desktop service built into Windows, and you can send control requests via MS Messenger.  Personally I've never used this one.  It may be really easy, I wouldn't know.  Between my inherent distrust of all things Microsoft, and the fact that I hardly know anyone on Microsoft's messenger network, I just never needed it. 

    Of all of these, my favorite is VNC.  VNC stands out to me because there are versions for Windows and for Linux.  And they are interoperable... you can control one from the other, both ways.  On the Linux side its even possible to make it so that the remote control starts at the right edge of your screen.  This makes it possible to have a Windows machine and a Linux machine side by side and control both via one mouse and keyboard.  You just move your mouse from one screen to the other.  Yeah.  Its just that cool.

If you need help, I'm just a phone call or an email away.

phone: (606) 219-4088  (before 8pm)

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