Preventing Malicious Spyware or Adware from Hijacking Your Computer!

by Steven Presar

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had used existing fair trade laws in asking a federal court to shut down some of the leading distributors of malicious "spyware" or "adware" software. This type of malicious software may be lumped with viruses, worms, and spam, and is all referred to as "malware" - short for malicious software. 

What are spyware and adware software? 

Spyware and adware are software that is installed on your computer, generally without your knowledge, that monitors or controls your computer's use. The software may send pop-up ads, redirect you to an un-requested website while you are on the Internet, monitor your Internet activity or record your keystrokes while you are online. This recording of keystrokes may lead to identity theft or credit card fraud.

The terms "spyware" and "adware" are the essentially same type of software. They are software that you may not be aware of running on your computer.

The online marketers who distribute this type of software maintain that you have downloaded the software to help them better service your Internet marketing needs. They would also state that you received their software as part of another free software package that you downloaded and installed. Lastly, that during the download process, that you clicked on the "agree" button, where there was their statement that you would accept online pop-up ads for their advertised products.

This same software that have victimized individuals with a mysterious change in their opening Internet page, a new default search engine, an avalanche of pop-up ads while online, computer slow downs or a computer crash - know the software as spyware. 

Any unsolicited software that runs on your computer is malicious spyware software.

Spyware Distribution.

Regardless of what it is called -- your computer is infected just the same. Simply clicking on a banner ad can install spyware software. Worms, which are self-propagating viruses, can also carry spyware. They search for machines that don't have up-to-date security patches and install their crippling software. Spyware may also be distributed by email.

As stated before the biggest method of distributing spyware is to secretly bundle it with free software that you download from the Internet. Sites that offer music sharing, videos, weather data, games, screen savers, a tool bar, or program that synchronizes your computer's clock often are paid to distribute this spyware as adware. 

Such as file sharing programs like Kazaa, has adware bundled right in the package download. 

Before these programs are installed, you must click a box saying you accept the contractual agreement. These agreements can be thousands of words long and people rarely read them. Upon closer examination, however, they would find that accepting pop-up ad serving software were part of getting the package.

Another common method is a message saying you need to download ActiveX to view a website or email note. Don't do it! It's just another method to get you to click yes to their adware.

Sometimes the presentation is an outright counterfeit of a Microsoft agreement or some other recognizable document. A safe rule to follow: If you're not sure what it is, don't click yes. Cancel out of the program any way you can, even if it means rebooting your computer.

Unlike virus writers, who mainly want to infect as many computers as they can just so they can brag, spyware distribution firms have a financial incentive to have their software stay on your computer as long as possible. The more of their ads that they load onto your computer screen, the more likely that you will click on one of the ads. 

Is Your Computer Infected?

To eliminate spyware, you must track down every file and completely erase it. That can be tough since spyware hides inside your computer's operating system, making it difficult to find.

If you suspect that your computers is infected and want to search the Internet for an "anti-spyware" solution -- be careful. 

A Google search will return over 1,500,000 for "anti spyware software". You will return about 749,000 hits for the phrase "anti-spyware software". Some companies that offer anti-spyware software solutions also make spyware software. Who else would know how to remove spyware then the makers of spyware software? Their anti-spyware software may remove a version of spyware on your computer but discretely load a more current version of their spyware to be launched in a few days after you had thought that you had cleaned-up your spyware problem on your computer. 

You may download three free spyware cleaning programs at: 

Ad-Aware ( www.lavasoftusa.com ), Spybot ( www.security.kolla.de ), and CWshredder ( www.spywareinfo.com/merijn/index.html )

Before you run any of these, use their automatic update feature to get the latest protection. Some users report better results when they make repeated passes with each of the three programs.

Cleaners can remove most of an infection, rendering it temporarily inactive. But components sometimes remain that download more files and re-infect your computer. Sometimes it helps to disconnect from the Internet, then reboot after you run the cleaner. If you know how to manage a fire wall like Zone Alarm, you may be able to use it to prevent persistent spyware from reconstituting itself.

If your computer is so bogged down with spyware, you may have
trouble downloading the anti- spyware products before your
computer crashes. In that case, you may have to obtain the
programs from another computer with a CD burner, and then load
the software onto your troubled computer using a CD.

Scan your hard drive at least once a week with two or more anti-spyware programs because each is likely to find files the other overlooks. 

Ongoing Anti-Spyware Protection!

To prevent future infections, never click on any popup ads or the body of any spam emails. Try closing unwanted pop-up ads using Alt-F4 in Windows. The Alt-F4 is a keystroke combination that decreases the risk you'll click on a disguised button to close a window that will actually open another window.

Keep your computer up to date with the latest security patches. Microsoft offers free updates at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com , and free CDs can be ordered for users on slow-speed dial-up.

Windows recently announced the release of XP's Service Pack 2, which provides additional security measures such as a limited spyware blocker and a firewall. 

Protection is an ongoing process since spyware makers are constantly creating new threats. You may download a good computer resources manager and security manager at www.onlinesoftwareguide.com/wintask 

Install a personal firewall. ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs has a free basic firewall for personal use. Symantec and McAfee sell popular personal firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware software. 

Next, set the computer's operating system for daily security updates. 

Also set the Web browser to a medium or high-security level. For Windows, go to Microsoft's Web site for instructions. Windows XP users should install Service Pack 2, which makes it close to impossible for software to be downloaded without your being alerted. Consider switching to browser less popular than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox (mozilla.org) or Opera (opera.com). They are less likely to be attacked. 

If you have any problem implementing any of the above, be sure and contact your computer consultant. Finally, practice safe surfing. That means downloading only trustworthy software, reading licensing agreements, avoiding banner ads, and deleting all spam without opening.

Tips for Protecting You and Your Computer.

Do not click "yes" when an Active X dialog box keeps popping up unless you know exactly what you're downloading. .Do not open and delete all suspicious email messages. .Do not fill out any web forms asking for your social security number, driver's license, email passwords, bank account information, or your mother's maiden name. Do not download or install any software unless you know and trust the source 100%. .Do not give your email address to anyone you don't know. Clear out cookies and other tracking data on your computer. Try using disposable email accounts when filling out forms on the Internet. Do not enter any sweepstakes or contests online. Most of them capture your personal information and sell it to third party vendors. Install software to counter-attack Spyware, Adware, Spam and pop-up ads. You can file a complaint about unsolicited spyware software with the FTC at: www.ftc.govClick on "File a Complaint."

Websites That You Can Trust To Help.

Ad-Aware ( www.lavasoftusa.com )
Spybot ( www.security.kolla.de )
CWshredder ( www.spywareinfo.com/merijn/index.html )
WinTask, Manages Resources and Improves Security ( www.onlinesoftwareguide.com/wintask )
Download of Ad-aware and Spybot Search & Destroy ( www.download.com )
Spyware information tools, tips, and vendor for Trend Micro software ( www.housecall.trendmicro.com )
McAfee anti-virus and anti-spyware software ( www.mcafee.com )
Windows security patches and spyware protection information ( www.microsoft.com/athome/security/viruses )
Virus and spyware scans ( www.pcpitstop.com )
Lists software that may spread spyware ( www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm )
Norton spyware information ( www.symantec.com/avcenter/ )
Spy Sweeper anti-spyware ( www.webroot.com )
Zonelabs firewall ( www.zonelabs.com )


About the Author: Steven Presar is a recognized small business technology coach, Internet publisher, author, speaker, and trainer. He provides personal, home, and computer security solutions at www.ProtectionConnect.com . He provides business software reviews at www.OnlineSoftwareGuide.com . In addition, he publishes articles for starting and running a small business at www.Agora-Business-Center.com . Be sure to sign-up for the SOHO newsletter at this site. 

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