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HOME > TIPS > MONTHLY > MARCH 2003

 

Beware of Spyware!

 

Unheralded threat of spyware

By now, most of us are aware of the threat of virus attacks and the risk of downloading, using file-sharing software (such as Kazaa or Morpheus), or just surfing the web. As a result of this and other widely publicized computer virus threats, most people have installed antivirus protection on our computers. But there's a threat that, if you knew about it, would make your nose hairs curl and make you run out and protect yourself.

Spybots and Spyware

What do these things do? They can do a number of things. Some of them track what web sites you like to go to, looking for patterns in your surfing behavior or shopping preferences. Others put a program on your computer that will run automatically at startup. This program might lay dormant until you're not around, at which point your computer can be hi-jacked and used as a hacking zombie. Almost as bad, the sneaky program which was put there without your permission could be using up valuable resources, RAM and bandwidth. This would show up in decreased computer performance: programs opening or running slowly, slow surfing or lots of PC crashes.

Anti virus protection or firewalls won't help

If you have anti virus software like Norton Antivirus or McAfee, don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Spyware isn't a computer virus or worm, and isn't treated like one. If you download and install, for example, something like Gator to track your passwords, it is also keeping track of you against your knowledge. Norton Anti Virus won't care. Or, if you download and install some programs like Netscape Navigator or Netscape Communicator, sometimes a small piggyback program called Comet Cursor is installed with it. This is loaded automatically at startup and sucks up your valuable computer resources. You unwittingly gave Comet Cursor permission to be on your PC, and now it's there to stay.

How do I get rid of this invading Spyware and Spybots?

Chances are, your computer is filled with spyware that you were clueless about. There are probably ad-tracking cookies that know your every move. There are bots that are "phoning home" to let the mothership know what you like to do. There are possibly even holes in your security, where maybe someone can get their grubby hands on your personal information like address, banking or credit card info. So, what to do? Luckily, there are a number of software solutions. The best one is SpyBot S&D. You may have heard of Ad-Aware, but it's lacking the commitment to update against the latest spyware threats. The tricky thing about running a powerful tool like Spybot Search & Destroy is that it will flag lots of things, some of which are nasty intruding spybots. You will want a trained eye to look at the alarming list of things it finds, so you don't accidentally delete something valuable, creating a much bigger mess than you started with!

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