Info/Avoiding Viruses and Spyware

February 25, 2008

The term Malware is a generic term that includes viruses, spyware, and other similar software. The “Mal” stands for malicious and the term “ware” comes from the word software. Basically, Malicious Software. Malicious software is any software with malicious intent. Often, this software is installed on a comptuer without the owner of the computer even knowing it has been installed. Sometimes malware tricks you into installing it by providing useful features while in the background doing malicious things. Destructive or not, they all affect your system in some way, even if it’s just in terms of performance.

In the early days of computers and the internet, viruses were just pranks pulled by people with too much time on their hands. But viruses have taken a back seat to spyware these days. And spyware is big business. The makers and users of spyware use it to make and steal money. Here are some examples of what spyware can do:

  1. A fake anti-virus program will tell you that your computer is infected (even if it’s not) and then demands you pay for their product in order to remove the supposed infections.
  2. They may collect personal information about you which can be used to steal your identity.
  3. A program called a keylogger tries to steal your account numbers, login id’s, and passwords so that theives can gain access to your bank account, brokerage account, or any other account. Once they have access, they can empty your account and steal your money.
  4. Your computer can be turned into a robot that will be used to send spam, spread malware, or launch internet attacks. This can cause your internet service provider to shut off your internet access. It can also cause your e-mail address to be blacklisted.

Those are just a few examples. We’re not trying to scare you. But all computer users who use the internet need to take this seriously in today’s world of identity theft. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your computer for financial matters, shopping, or sensitive information. It just means you need to protect your computer and your information.

If you take the time to read the information in this article, and follow the steps outlined, you will be well protected.

The first thing you should do is start with a clean system. If your system is running slower than it used to, you may have malware on your system dragging it down. If strange things are happening on your system, you may have malware. If you get pop-up advertisements, especially when you aren’t surfing the web, you may have malware on your system. If your system has been without virus protection, a firewall, or spyware protection, or if you have these, but they are expired, your system may be infected. It’s important to start with a clean system when you install Anti-Virus or Anti-spyware protection. Many people install Anti-Virus or Anti-Spyware protection on a system that is already infected thinking that the security software will clean their system. Most times, security software cannot be installed successfully on an infected system. And in those cases where it can, it usually cannot fully clean your system on it’s own.

By the way, due to the nature of malware, there is no 100% guaranteed way to prevent malware from getting on on your system. However, if you follow the steps below and are careful, chances are you won’t loose any data or experience any major problems caused by malware.

Once you have a clean system, you then need to have a good anti-virus program running on all internet connected computers. A good anti-virus program should automatically update itself, have active protection, and automatically scan for and remove viruses. And it shouldn’t slow your computer way down.

Next, you must have a good anti-spyware package running on all computers. A good anti-spyware package must automatically update itself. It must have active protection. It must automatically scan and remove spyware. And it must have the most comprehensive spyware database so that it removes the most spyware. You may have heard of or used 2 free anti-spyware packages. One is called Ad-Aware and the other is called SpyBot Search and Destroy. These two used to be really good, but because of the explosion of Spyware, they just can’t keep up anymore.

The security software we recommend is:

There is a growing trend among the makers of spy programs to create so-called security programs that look like security software but are really spyware in sheep’s clothing. Do not download and install any security software from the internet without checking it out to make sure it’s legitimate.

To project your computer against inbound attacks over the internet, your computer should be protected by a firewall. If your computers is connected to a router, the router acts as a firewall. If your computer is connected directly to the internet, then a software firewall is a must. It doesn’t mean you have to purchase a firewall. Both Windows XP and Vista have built-in firewalls.

A good anti-virus, a good anti-spyware, and a good firewall are a must for every system. But they can only do so much. Here are some things you can do to help prevent malware from getting on your system. Try and do as many of these as possible. The more of them you can do, the safer your computer, and your data, will be.

  • Be extremely cautious of “free” software. Cool utilities from GAIN, Gator, eAccelleration, and others typically contain spyware. Watch out for free toolbars and screen savers unless they come from well-known reputable companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, etc.
  • Read (or at least scan) the End User License Agreement (EULA) on all software before you install it. Many of the “free” programs bury in the EULA a disclosure about spyware you are installing with their produts.
  • Turn off the preview pane in your e-mail software. Only open e-mail from people you know. Don’t open any spam. Delete it without opening it.
  • Use anti-spam software to reduce spam. We can recommend, install, and configure Anti-Spam software for you.
  • Avoid file sharing programs like Kazaa, BitTorrent, LimeWire, BearShare, WinMX, Morpheus, and others.
  • Be aware that some “free” spyware removal tools install their own malware while they MAY remove others. This especially holds true for those that come in the form of pop-up advertisements warning you about the spyware installed on your PC. Use one of the anti-spyware programs recommended above.
  • Never buy or even click on the links that come in pop-up windows or spam. CAREFULLY close the pop-ups and delete the spam e-mail.
  • Use a pop-up blocker to avoid pop-ups. There is one built-in to most browsers (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox) and you can also get them with free toolbars from places like Yahoo or Google.
  • Be careful of the sites you are surfing. If you are prompted to install something that you were not expecting, or from an unknown site, click the cancel or no button to avoid installing it until you can confirm what is being installed.
  • Keep Windows Up to Date. How you do this depends on what version of windows you are using. Microsoft frequently releases security updates for windows. It is very important that all windows users download and install these security updates. Turn on automatic updates. Click here for the steps to turn on automatic updates.
  • Don’t use an antiquated version of Windows. Use Windows XP or Windows Vista. Microsoft no longer releases security patches for older versions of windows. And the newer security software does not work on older versions of Windows.
  • Backup your important data. If you have important documents, e-mail, business data, financial data, pictures, music, or any other kind of information on your computer that you do not want to loose, then you should have some sort of back-up of this data. Ask us about our recommended backup solution.
  • Consider using a browser other than Internet Explorer to access the web. Because Internet Explorer is the most common web browser, it is targeted by more browser hijackers and spyware. You can reduce your chances of getting hijacked by using an alternative browser. We recommend Firefox. Click here to download and install Firefox.
    We also like Google Chrome which you can install by clicking here.
    NOTE: You can have more than one browser on your system, so installing FireFox or Chrome doesn’t prevent you from still using Internet Explorer.

Well, there you have it. That’s our dissertation on malicious software and how to protect yourself.

We truly hope that this information helps you and that you don’t have to deal with any malicious software on your system.

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