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Spyware, Spyware, Spyware

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You open Internet Explorer to do a little web surfing and it starts. Popup ads all over the place. Sometimes you don't even have to get on the web for them to start. Your computer used to run lightning fast and now it takes five minutes for the hour glass to go away when you start up. Tasks that used to be easy, like opening a document, now seem to take minutes. What is going on with this computer?!?!

The answer is easy. Spyware, adware, viruses, trojan horses, root kits... call it what you want, it's annoying, costs us time and frustrates the heck out of us when we are trying to get something done on our computer.

So... what to do about it? I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news first, of course, is that once your computer has been infected, you are in trouble. The problem is that spyware has come a long way in the last year or so. There is no software available that will really clean all this junk off of your computer. You can try AdAware, Spybot, Spysweeper, Windows Washer, all of them. You may get some of it cleaned, but it will just keep coming until it is all cleaned completely. One problem is many of the spyware programs can not even be deleted while you are in Windows. The most sophisticated spyware, called root kits, can not even be seen in Windows even though they are running and generating popup ads. Unfortunately, the only way to clean it completely is to either wipe the computer clean or hire someone with specialized tools and know-how to clean the spyware and viruses off. Usually a two hour job to get a computer back in to "like new" condition again.

What about the good news? The good news is that this can all be avoided. Not easily though. You have to be careful. First of all, be sure you load the "Microsoft AntiSpyware Tool". There is usually a link for it on the microsoft.com home page or just search on their site for "antispyware". This tool searches your computer each day at 2:00AM for spyware to delete. It's most important feature though is it's active protection. As you surf the web and click on things, it watches. If a program tries to install itself on your computer, you will see a message popup asking you if you would like to allow or block the program. Unless you are intentionally installing something, ALWAYS click block.

Next, you want to be sure you are running a good antivirus program. That rules out Norton and McAfee. Seriously... I know these are the big names, but they are expensive and you find more viruses with a free (for home users) utility called AVG Antivirus. It simply finds more viruses and trojan horses than either Norton or McAfee. AVG is also smaller, takes less time to startup and yes, even though it's free, it runs scans every 24 hours and automatically updates it's virus definitions. You can dowload it at http://free.grisoft.com.

The most important thing you need to remember when it comes to avoiding spyware and viruses is that it is usually YOU the computer user that downloads it to your computer. You have to be careful what you click on. Here's a few guidelines... Do not download "free" music. Do not install Morpheus, Kazaa, Limewire, Bear Share or any other free music downloading utility. Some of these come loaded with spyware and the use of any of them will get you more. Do not download smiley faces for your email, free wallpaper, free screen savers, etc. Remember the old adage that nothing is really free? It's especially true when it comes to free downloads. They love to bait you with free teddy bear screen savers. So cuddly and innocent, then bam!... the popups begin. This is not to say you should not download anything. Music from Walmart.com or iTunes.com is fine and utilities from microsoft.com and other trusted sources are okay. You also have to be careful when visiting web sites. Many game cheat web sites and other types of sites that we won't mention here (use your imagination) ask you to download software for their site to function properly. Often, this software comes with spyware attached.

Just use your head and think about what you are downloading and what sites you are visiting. Use a little common sense and you'll be okay.

Posted by Charles Swihart on 2/1/2006

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