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Category Archives: spyware

Following on from my post about my adventures cleaning up Caerulia’s PC, my cousin Marquis responded with such a long comment I’ve decided to include it here as a guest post. So take it away Marquis…

Here’s my list of “must do’s” for keeping any net connected PC clean. Will try to keep it brief and simple but forgive me if I ramble on a bit. Please note that all product endorsements are my own based simply on personal experience. Every computer is different and an application which runs well on one computer may slow another one down for various reasons.

Keep your operating system and browser up-to-date with the latest security patches and service packs. The majority of viruses and spyware attack known vulnerabilities and succeed in infecting because people haven’t followed this simple rule. With 92% of operating systems out there being MS Windows, most of your readers will find the site below useful. It will scan and update Windows, IE and your MS Office applications:

http://www.update.microsoft.com/microsoftupdate/v6/default.aspx?ln=en-us

After that, you can set Windows to update automatically.

If you’re using a different browser than IE, it’s vital to ensure it’s also kept up-to-date with the latest version/patches. Many people argue that Firefox etc. are more secure. Without getting into a flamewar, I’d argue that all of the browsers are targets for exploit and have new vulnerabilities identified all the time so it doesn’t really matter which one you use, as long as you keep it patched – and continue to keep IE patched regardless since you’re stuck with it.

Run a firewall. You can run one on your ADSL router and/or the PC itself. Best practice is to use both and restrict access both inbound and outbound to services/applications which are required. Doing this properly may be a little too technical for many people, but it’s a definite must.

Run anti-virus and anti-spyware and ensure you are running the latest version with the latest virus definitions. A regular weekly full-system scan should be run and real-time protection should scan files as they are accessed.
For antivirus, I’ve always found AVG to be very good (and free). AVG also make free antispyware and anti-rootkit tools but I’ve never used them and so can’t comment.
For antispyware, I use Windows Defender which seemed to be the best thing on the market when MS bought them out. Whether or not they’ve managed to ruin a good thing, I’m yet to see 🙂

AVG:
http://free.grisoft.com/
MS Windows Defender:
http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx

Backup. Regularly… and occasionally check that the data is actually recoverable.

Common Sense

  • Don’t open emails from an unrecognised source – delete them
  • Don’t open attachments that seem suspicious
  • Don’t click on links in emails unless the source can be trusted
  • Don’t click on links in pop-up ads just close them down
  • Don’t believe the hype – those people from Nigeria aren’t really in need of your bank account details 🙂
  • When entering sensitive information like credit card details, ensure the connection is securely encrypted (little padlock in the bottom right hand corner for Internet Explorer users) etc.etc…

A few tools I like to use are:

Ad-aware and Spybot S&D

Rootkit Revealer:
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/Utilities/RootkitRevealer.mspx

Microsoft Security Baseline Analyser:
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/tools/mbsahome.mspx

Stinger:
http://vil.nai.com/vil/stinger/stinger.htm

TrendMicro Housecall – an online virus scanner which I like to run once a month to double-check that I’m not infected- some viruses can disable your antivirus itself without it being apparent, so an independant third-party scan occasionally can help to identify such issues.
http://housecall.trendmicro.com/

A really good site for posting these kinds of questions is:
http://www.experts-exchange.com/

I’ll willingly give it a free plug here since I’m a regular contributer. It’s got forums for just about any geeky issue you can imagine and it often saves re-inventing the wheel or learning long, hard, lonely lessons.

da_trash.jpg

I was having a problem last week. Even though Caerulia’s PC uses Firefox as the default browser, Internet Explorer pop-ups kept appearing every few minutes, slowing down the connection severely (it’s already bad enough on dial-up). My usual remedy – Ad-Aware – didn’t seem to be cutting it. So I had some new things to learn about resolving the problem. Here’s what I ended up doing.

Geek Collective

All computer users should have these kinds of people – peers who know a hell of a lot more about computers than I do. Once upon a time, I’d consult them all the time, but nowadays, I only rely on them when I get stuck with something. Here’s what I put to them:

Hey geek friends (sounds a bit like “Super-friends” but with less capes and lycra huh?)

For years, I have used Ad-Aware to get rid of evil pop-ups, but now I’m using Caerulia’s PC while mine is in hibernation, the Ad-Aware doesn’t seem to be cutting it, and I keep getting stupid pop-ups appearing in IE (despite only using Firefox!) all the time when I’m online.

Is there a successor to Ad-Aware in the war against pop-ups that I should know about?
What’s the latest strategies?

Renaming Iexplore

Marquis suggested this, because the pop-ups were happening in IE, despite me using Firefox. He figured that since the pop-ups were running IE to operate, if we disabled their ability to run the program, it might stop. But it didn’t help, and according to Marquis (who wasn’t sure it’d work anyway) Windows renames it back because it’s too central to the operating system to be absent.
By the way, this wasn’t Marquis’ only contribution, but it was the only one I actually understood – he’s much more technical than I am, and a lot of his suggestions were deep Windows hacks that I dare not try on Caerulia’s PC without adult supervision.

HiJackThis

Mick suggested using this little application, HiJackThis. It doesn’t resolve the problems, but it does do quite a bit of diagnostic work and spits out a little text file which Mick was able to use to identify at least two problems – trojans – that needed to be removed. So I did that with one, but the other wouldn’t delete, because Windows was using it. Does anyone know how to start up the PC when it’s got WinXP without going into Windows? Like the old “Boot into DOS” option?

Spyware Doctor

Dudley suggested Spyware Doctor. I downloaded it, and quickly realised it wasn’t going to be much good unless I paid to register it. Fortunately though, being broke meant I shot back an email to him telling him this, so he called my attention to the text file he’d attached to his original email – which included the code for activating the program. *slap forehead* So I was able to run the program and test it out.
And I have to admit, it was terribly thorough. It cleaned out thousands of files, and since then, I have gone more than a week without a single pop-up interrupting life.

The whole process took several hours, spread over 2-3 days. And without the geek collective, I doubt I’d have had much success. So a big thankyou to all of them.

I’ll now throw the forum open though – what do others use to keep their systems clean? (Yes, I will be taking notes and trying them out next time I run into a problem)

Nothing to say.

Have just spent almost four hours de-spywaring Caerulia’s PC. Maybe I’ll write a novel about it? It seems clean now though.