I fiddle with computers as much for fun as for profit. Consequently, I am a go-to guy when one of my friends’ computers begins to act strangely. Lately, that has been an increasingly frequent event because of adware, spyware, and viruses.
Adware forces ads upon you, and uses up computer resources. Spyware surreptitiously sends information about you and your computer to some third party. It can be relatively benign, and just send out information about your buying habits, or it can search for credit card information (even that which you think is secure).
What? You say you use an antivirus product? Good for you. When was the last time you updated it, actually used it to scan your entire computer? I run Norton Antivirus 2004, update it regularly, and always am too busy to let it run a complete scan except when I first installed it. I just ran it last night on 80 gigabytes of files—and found three with lurking viruses. Hmmm . . .
My next-door neighbor can whip a computer to do his bidding like no one else. A graphic artist, he has produced work for Pixar and Disney on various of his computers—and he barely knows where the On button is. He has little or no love or admiration for the complex internal workings of the computer. He only wants it to do the work he wants to accomplish. He uses anti-virus software, and regularly runs an overnight scan. So why was his computer acting up?
The first thing I noticed was that every time I tried to open Internet Explorer, I was directed to a site called “Microsoft.Update” that asked if I wanted to install some piece of software. If I said “no” I was rudely asked again, and again, and again. If I said yes, I got a bunch of porn. Looking more closely at the URL (the address of the website) I noticed it was “www.microsoft.update.com.ch.” Interesting: the little .ch at the end meant I had traveled unwillingly to China.
His desktop wallpaper had been altered to some car advertisement. I ran a check for running process and instead of the normal list of some 45 processes I saw over 130 running, most of which were not familiar. Something was wrong. I also noticed a hefty amount of Internet traffic going across the DSL modem, even when I was not requesting anything. What gives?
Finally able to get into Internet Explorer, I was plagued by one popup ad after another. Some, as fast as I closed them, spawned one or more new popups. This was computer hell.
I have a few utilities I use to keep this nonsense at bay. I used them on my neighbor’s machine and discovered over 130 pieces of spyware, adware, Trojans, and viruses—and this on a machine whose owner was careful. I later in the week had a similar experience with my wife, who had over 180 of the little beasties (she allows our daughter to use her computer, thus explaining the vast quantity.)
I offer an unwitting public a few suggested programs to be obtained and run in the background, and to be kept up to date, so as to keep this explosion of computer trespass at bay.
Spybot — Search and Destroy
Freeware available at www.spybot.info (donations gladly accepted: please send them). Weekly updates, sometimes more frequent.
Download it, install it, and let it find what’s on your computer. But be careful—you may find that your favorite “freeware” product won’t run after you eliminate the spyware—that’s where the “free” part comes in. Myself, I won’t run software that requires adware or spyware.
Spybot will scan your computer for known spyware, and identify each instance it has found, offering you the option of removing it. Spybot offers the opportunity to back up prior to removing spyware it has found. I have always taken the rough and ready approach of eliminating without the backup. If something ceases to work after removing spyware, then that “something” is suspect.
Freeware available at www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
Pro version available for $39.95. Frequent free updates.
Run Ad-Watch in background always; run Ad-Aware periodically. Lavasoft says it best: “Ad-Aware™ Professional Edition is designed to provide continuous protection from known Datamining, aggressive advertising, Parasites, Scumware, Keyloggers, selected traditional Trojans, Dialers, Malware, Browser hijackers, and tracking components…” The free version will scan and clean adware. The pro version includes a monitoring program that prevents adware from being installed. I suggest the pro version, if for no other reason than keeping this program alive and available.
Popup Ad Filter
Available for $25 at www.meaya.com. No updates required, free updates as released.
This is the successor to my favorite freeware, Popup killer. Load it and popups are blocked. Period. But if you are at a site with popups you want, you merely hold down the control key to temporarily disable Popup Ad Filter. You can also give it a list of sites at which popups should be enabled (such as your online banking site, etc.).
Dan Coolidge is an intellectual property and patent attorney with Coolidge & Graves in Keene, New Hampshire. He also makes exotic wood buttons.