It is becoming all too common — the influx of “spyware” and “browser hijacking” that can turn your computer into a mess.
I see the effects on computers — and it’s getting worse. The creeps who write spyware programs are getting more devious, using all kinds of tricks to get users to accept these pieces of crap that take over your browser, installing toolbars and exhorting porn and gambling Web sites.
Spyware, also known as “adware,” is software that surreptitiously monitors your actions online. Often, it tracks where you have been on the Internet and delivers that data back to its masters.
In some cases, even innocent browsing can lead to a takeover of your computer.
Sometimes, spyware comes disguised as useful software — even anti-spyware software. One of the leading newsletters touted a certain program that I downloaded and used. It contained spyware. The newsletter’s authors apologized, but it took some time to clean my system.
The two anti-spyware software cleaners I use and trust are Spybot and Ad-aware. The Spybot Web site has been under attack from this scum, so if you go there to download and the site is not available, try again later. If you can, make a donation to the author, who does not charge for the software.
Here are some recommendations to beat spyware:
• Quit using Internet Explorer and use Mozilla or Opera. Although it’s possible to have problems with either of the two, neither has hooks into the operating system, the gateway to messing with your system. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, on the other hand, is integrated into the operating system. You cannot uninstall IE.
• Update Windows frequently. This involves keeping in touch with the news and possible vulnerabilities of Windows. This is the only time I recommend that you use IE.
• Refuse attachments in e-mail. If you have friends who send you attachments, have them put the files on a Web site or have them learn to take the extensions off attachments and tell you what to rename it, such as jpg or zip.
• Use Spybot and Ad-aware weekly. Both programs are easy to run and compatible with all versions of Windows. If spyware is already loaded into memory, one or the other might need to be run on the next startup of Windows.
• If you use Outlook or Outlook Express, disable the “preview” pane. Sometimes, just clicking on a message can kick off a virus or worm because it opens in the preview pane. To disable the preview pane in Outlook, select the Inbox, at the top select View. Then, if the preview pane is active, click on Preview and it will no longer be active. In Outlook Express, select the Inbox, then on the toolbar, View Layout. Then uncheck the box labeled Show Preview Pane.
• Download and run StartupRun occasionally. Although the program does not recognize all browser helpers, it does recognize some of them. It also stops unwanted programs from loading at startup.
• Get and use Zone Alarm. It is free for home users. It can be tricky to install and maintain, but it will monitor all Internet traffic. Should you get a Trojan Horse on your computer, it cannot communicate with its “mother ship” unless you let it.
• Clean out your temporary Internet files weekly. To do this in Internet Explorer, go to Tools Internet Options. Click on Delete Files and then check the “Delete all offline content” box and click OK.