How To Protect Your Computer From Spyware And Adware

Spyware And Adware - How To Protect Your Computer From Spyware And Adware

As if spam, viruses, and worms aren't bad enough. Adware and spyware are here to sap the remaining life out of your productivity and privacy. Cookies are harmless in comparison!

Adware is software that displays advertisements on your computer. These are ads that inexplicably pop up on your display screen, even if you're not browsing the Internet. Some companies provide "free" software in exchange for advertising on your display. It's how they make their money.

Spyware is software that sends your personal information to a third party without your permission or knowledge. This can include information about Web sites you visit or something more sensitive like your user name and password. Unscrupulous companies often use this data to send you unsolicited targeted advertisements.

Have you ever had an experience where you were repeatedly asked to accept a download even after you said "no"? Creators of deceptive software often use such tricks to get you to load their software. If this happens to you, do not click "yes". Instead, try to close the Web page that first asked you to accept the download by hitting the "X" in the corner of the window. Alternatively, quit Internet Explorer and restart it to begin browsing the Internet again. If you visit a Web page that continually displays these tricky pop-up windows, that Web site may not be worthy of your trust.

Step 1: Adjust your Internet Explorer 6 (Web browser) security settings
You can adjust your Web browser's security settings to determine how much—or how little—information you are willing to accept from a Web site. The higher the security level, the lower the risk. The downside: using the highest security levels may make Web sites less usable.

By Default, Internet Explorer 6 Strikes A Balance
When you first install Internet Explorer, it classifies all Web sites into a single zone (the Internet zone) and assigns everything medium level security. When you are using this level of security, Internet Explorer should ask you to confirm that you want to download a file, unless you have previously indicated that the Web site or publisher is trusted. If you change the security level to "low," Web sites will be able to download software to your computer without telling you, so be careful when using this setting. If you need to change the security level to low for some reason, change it back to medium or higher as soon as possible.

Tip Working With Internet Explorer 6 Security Settings includes step-by-step instructions for adjusting your Internet Explorer 6 security settings.

Step 2: Don't take downloads from strangers
The best defense against deceptive software is not to download it in the first place. Here are a few helpful tips that may help guard against deceptive software.

• Install software only from Web sites you trust. Before you download anything from a Web site, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable doing business with that Web site. If the answer is no, then don't download the software. If you aren't sure, do some research, such as asking friends or checking other resources you trust.

• Read the fine print. When you install any program make sure you read the message on each window before you click "Agree" or "OK." You should also carefully read any license agreements or privacy statements associated with the software. You may discover behaviors you find objectionable. If the window will not let you click "No" or "I do not accept", close the window by clicking on the "X" in the corner. Never click "Yes" or "I accept" just to get rid of the window.

• Be wary of popular "free" music and movie file-sharing programs. Statistics show that many people get deceptive software on their system from these programs. To use the analogy of your house, when you install file-sharing programs you are literally leaving your front door open. Besides the obvious risks of having someone steal something from you, they can also leave things behind that you may not want around.

I've noticed more postings in the newsgroups about these threats. Many of the postings ask how they can tell if they have spyware on their systems and how to remove spyware if they find it. A small handful asks how to fix problems left over after removing spyware.

Here's some of the information I've found

Windows Media Player 9 Series Questions
Some think of Windows XP, Windows Media Player as spyware. I disagree. For example, when you first run Windows Media Player 9 Series, you're given a chance to review the privacy options and make changes as you see fit. To further preserve your privacy, the default value of the player ID is set to "anonymous."

Is Your PC Affected by Spyware?
The main problem that most people notice with either kind of program is that they cause performance issues with their computers. For example, Internet Explorer might not work properly any more, your computer might hang more frequently, or your computer might slow down significantly. Removing spyware successfully is difficult enough to make preventing it in the first place a priority.

Unauthorized Adware And Spyware Usually Install On Your Computer Covertly By Using One Of Two Methods

• Tricking you into clicking a link that installs it. Links to spyware can be deceptive. For example, a Web site that's trying to push spyware onto your computer might open a window that looks like a Windows dialog box, and then trick you by installing when you click a Cancel button to close the dialog box. Sometimes, spyware pushers will put a fake title bar in an empty window, and then install spyware when you try closing the window.

• Installing freeware that includes it. For example, you might install a free file-sharing program that surreptitiously installs spyware on your computer. File-sharing programs can be a major conveyor of adware.

Once installed, spyware can transmit your personal information and download advertisements 24 hours a day. It can also hijack your browser settings, such as your home page or search page.

Protect against Spyware and Adware
Without help, you have no way to prevent adware or spyware. Old antivirus programs don't even prevent adware, since they didn't consider them viruses or worms. First, you usually give permission to install adware, although you do so unwittingly because adware and spyware pushers are deceptive. Second, adware doesn't behave like a typical virus or worm. They don't usually do actual damage to your computer, other than wrecking its performance, and they don't spread themselves using your address book. (Although some kinds of adware can break your anti-spyware tools.)

Things are changing for the better, though. Most popular antivirus products now include adware and spyware scanning. McAfee VirusScanRun From McAfee. However, the latest versions of Norton AntiVirus 2004, and Trend Micro PC-Cillin 2004 now scan for some adware and spyware.

Prevent Unwanted Installation
Companies pushing adware and spyware are relying on two things: your desire for free software and your gullibility. I've had two friends bring me their computers after they were seriously infected with adware. In one case, the culprit was my friend's craving for free file-sharing software. His desktop was a mess with countless icons for programs that he downloaded from the Internet. I was aghast. What he didn't realize is that he gave implicit permission to install adware. He knows better now.

My other friend isn't a freeware glutton. Instead, she has a habit of clicking the Yes or OK buttons on every dialog box she sees. Even suspicious-looking dialog boxes that don't pass close scrutiny. Of course, when a dialog box pops up asking if it's OK to install a new program, she clicks the Yes button.

The lesson that you can learn from my friends will help you prevent the installation of most adware and spyware:

• Make sure the programs you install don't contain adware. Many freeware programs do include adware. It's how the publishers make their money. If you're not sure, read the license agreement carefully (these are usually shown directly or through links as part of the installation process). Also, check the publisher's Web site very carefully. If you're still not sure, search Google Groups for the name of the program and the keywords adware or spyware. If you don't find any postings about it, then you're probably OK.

• Install a pop-up blocker to prevent adware and spyware pop-up windows. Much spyware installs after you click a deceptive link in a pop-up browser window. Install a pop-up blocker, and you won't even be tempted to click those links. My two favorite pop-up blockers are completely free. The first is the Google Toolbar. The second is the new MSN Toolbar. Pop-up windows are annoying time wasters anyway, so you'll thank yourself later. If you're a Windows XP user, look for a service pack this summer (Service Pack 2) that will include a number of great security features, as well as a pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer.

• Don't unknowingly install adware or software. If you do click what seems like a innocent link, and then you see a dialog box like the one shown below, don't click the Yes button to install the software. This dialog box is your last line of defense, and you should only install programs from the Internet that you chose to install. This is akin to giving someone your credit card number who calls you at home. It's a different story if you called them. Installing Windows XP SP 2 will also provide some help by suppressing unsolicited downloads of ActiveX controls (a popular vehicle for spyware).

• If You Get A Popup Wanting You To Install Anything; Like Below, DON'T CLICK YES


Spyware scanners and some virus scanners with spyware signatures can help combat spyware. However, the best strategy is to be discriminating about what you choose to download and install.

Check Your Computer
If you're even thinking about scanning your computer for adware and spyware, then you're probably experiencing some of the symptoms I described earlier in this article. Those include instability, performance problems, or possibly a hijacked Web browser.

There is software specifically designed for detecting spyware and adware, and helping you remove it. The one with which I'm most familiar is Ad-aware from Lavasoft. This is the program that I recommend to most of my friends. A freeware version is available for use by individuals at home. A commercial version is also available for use in corporate environments. A program like Ad-aware finds adware and spyware on your computer and then removes them.

A variety of tools are available from other companies to detect and remove unwanted software from your computer, including:

Lavasoft Ad-aware

Spybot Search & Destroy (S&D)

You can find more adware and spyware removal tools at the Spyware Protection and Removal guide. This Web page includes links to popular spyware removal programs, as well as a number of useful articles. If you're not going to use a popular program like Ad-aware, however, search Google Groups for the name of the program you do choose. Some spyware removal software can cause as many problems as it fixes, and you want to find out about these problems before using unproven software.

Tip "It's best to run antivirus and spyware removal tools in Safe Mode." This is because removal tools sometimes can't remove spyware from your computer while it's running.

Get More Help
The best place to ask questions about adware if you suspect your computer is infested is in the newsgroups. Specifically, the Windows XP Security and Administration and the Windows XP General newsgroups tend to be where most users post and answer these types of questions. Rather than wait for an answer to your question, however, I suggest that you search the Windows XP newsgroups at Google Groups.

When you do post your questions, make sure you give a thorough description of the symptoms you're experiencing. The more information you give, the easier it will be for other people to help you. For example, you'll want to describe your hardware configuration as much as possible. It is also important to describe any software that you've recently installed, since unwanted software often comes bundled with other applications. Be sure to describe any pop-up windows that have suddenly started appearing on your desktop and, if possible, include a screenshot of them.

See: 827315 - Unexplained Computer Behavior May Be Caused By Deceptive Software

Remember not to post anything in a newsgroup that you'd have a problem with millions of people seeing—particularly malicious people who would take advantage of personal information. So don't provide account names, IP addresses, or passwords.

Even after posting your question, don't be disappointed if someone tells you to run a scanner like Ad-aware. Generally, if you suspect that your computer is infested with adware or spyware, this is the best advice. Or Post you problem in our Question and Answer Forum
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