Tag Archive for spyware

Steps to help prevent infection on your computer

Here are some tips for PC and Mac users alike — and smartphone users, too. Though there are “few” Mac viruses in the wild, there are plenty of unscrupulous programmers and con-men spreading free fraudulent software and malware.

Take the following steps to help prevent infection on your computer:
  • Enable a firewall on your computer.
  • Get the latest computer updates for all your installed software.
  • Use up-to-date antivirus software.
  • Limit user privileges on the computer.
  • Use caution when opening attachments and accepting file transfers.
  • Use caution when clicking on links to webpages.
  • Avoid downloading pirated software.
  • Protect yourself against social engineering attacks.
  • Use strong passwords.
Let me elaborate on a few points:
Get the latest computer updates

Updates help protect your computer from viruses, worms, and other threats as they are discovered. It is important to install updates for all the software that is installed in your computer. These are usually available from the providing company’s website. The following are programs I recommend updating straight from the source:

  • Adobe (www.adobe.com):
    • Flash
    • Acrobat Reader
    • Air
    • Shockwave
  • Java (www.java.com): Check this one monthly.
Use up-to-date antivirus software

Most antivirus software can detect and prevent infection by known malicious software. To help protect you from infection, you should always run antivirus software. If you have a “subscription” for update service, make sure you renew annually. Antivirus, contrary to popular belief, is not free-for-life.

Use caution when opening attachments and accepting file transfers

Exercise caution with email and attachments received from unknown sources, or received unexpectedly from known sources. Use extreme caution when accepting file transfers from known or unknown sources. When in doubt, reply to the sender, assuming it is someone you know, and confirm that they meant to send you the attachment. It’s possible their computer is infected and sent you the file without their knowledge. I’ve seen this happen several timers in the course of a year.

Use caution when clicking on links to webpages

As above: Exercise caution with links to webpages that you receive from unknown sources, especially if the links are to a webpage that you are not familiar with, unsure of the destination of, or suspicious of. Malicious software may be installed in your computer simply by visiting a webpage with harmful content.

Avoid downloading pirated software

Threats may also be bundled with software and files that are available for download on various torrent sites. Downloading “cracked” or “pirated” software from these sites carries not only the risk of being infected with malware, but is also illegal. For more information, see ‘The risks of obtaining and using pirated software‘.

Protect yourself from social engineering attacks

While attackers may attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in hardware or software to compromise a computer, they also attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in human behavior to do the same. When an attacker attempts to take advantage of human behavior to persuade the affected user to perform an action of the attacker’s choice, it is known as ‘social engineering’. Essentially, social engineering is an attack against the human interface of the targeted computer. For more information, see ‘What is social engineering?‘.

Use strong passwords

Attackers may try to gain access to your Windows account by guessing your password. It is therefore important that you use a strong password – one that cannot be easily guessed by an attacker. A strong password is one that has at least eight characters, and combines letters, numbers, and symbols. For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/create.mspx.

Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus for new computers

I’m picking up where I left off last week with the $450 computer system I built for a client. The system has 2 GB of RAM, a dual core processor, a 500GB hard drive, a DVD burner, and it runs the latest Windows 7 operating system.

In my last article, I listed some software I install on a typical new computer; today, I’ll continue by discussing spyware protection with PC Tools Spyware Doctor and virus protection using avast!

Viruses and Spyware: What’s the difference?

Viruses

  • Viruses are small programs or snippets of computer code that are designed to spread from one computer to another by infecting email messages, computer files, or storage media. When another computer opens an infected file, message, or disc, the virus has an opportunity to infect the new computer.
  • Viruses often have noticeable affects such as slowing down a computer, blocking access to files, causing unusual counds or messages to appear, or even the deletion of files stored on a system.
  • Each virus needs specific conditions in order to take effect. For example, some viruses may require that a file or email message needs to be opened — often by a specific program (Word, Excel, etc.). In some cases your computer maybe infected, but without the necessary activating conditions, you may never notice the virus’s presence, but it is still possible for the the virus to spread if the infected message or file is sent to another computer.
  • Viruses can be detected and eliminated by anti-virus software.

Spyware

  • Spyware, as it names implies, is more difficult to spot. After all, a good spy shouldn’t be noticed.
  • While viruses are designed to spread on their own, spyware is often intentionally downloaded by a computer user. Typically the user is deceived and lead to believe that the program they are downloading is useful, beneficial, or desirable.
  • Spyware is often designed to seek out personal information, or to trick the computer user into providing personal information.
  • Some spyware may have “viral elements” which enable to spyware to spread to other computers. Such spyware can be detected by anti-virus software.
  • Spyware without a viral element is detectable by anti-spyware software.

Many computer owners mistakenly believe that they only need one or the other, but if you use the Internet you should have both types of software installed on your computer. Antispyware doesn’t detect viruses, and antivirus programs only detect some spyware programs (as mentioned above).

avast! antivirus

My antivirus software of choice is avast! This program is free for home users with only one computer. If you have more than one computer, they ask that you download the avast! Pro version. avast! Pro for one computer is $40, $55 for three computers, and $85 for 5 computers. I have installed this software on over a hundred computers, and there have been no complaints from anyone who’s used it.

PC Tools Spyware Doctor

My favorite anti-spyware program is PC Tools Spyware Doctor. I found this program several years ago, and was happily surprised to find it caught more spyware than any other program of its kind. I’ve been using it and recommending it ever since.

Spyware Doctor just keeps getting better with age. The latest version includes anti-virus software, and the October 2009 issue of PC Magazine says:

“The latest Spyware Doctor proved effective in every area of malware removal and blocking. It’s a great product.”

Spyware Doctor can be installed on up to three computers for $39.95. It’s only available online. Click the links above or the picture at left in order to buy your copy. Its available as a download and as a mail-order CD.

Spam Dropped Last Week. Are You A Victim?

You may or may not have heard the news last week, but spam traffic dropped by 50 to 70 percent last week after two Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cut off Internet access for hosting company McColo in California last week.

If you’re not familiar with these terms, a hosting company provides computer service and equipment for other companies and individuals. A hosting company typically offers storage service for email and web sites. An ISP provides companies and individuals with access to the Internet.

Spyware Doctor Free Scan

In last week’s case, McColo, a hosting company with locations in Delaware and California, was providing hosting services to several companies and individuals who used the McColo’s computers to distribute viruses and spyware via spam and harmful web sites. Many of the sites and messages dealt in pharmaceutical drug sales and child pornography. These companies were paying McColo for the use of their computers, and despite the illegal activity McColo ignored it.

McColo’s host computer center in San Jose, CA was connected to the Internet via several Internet Service Providers.  Two of the providers took it upon themselves to deprive McColo of Internet access and shutdown the Internet connection. Within seconds the level of spam traffic worldwide dropped by 50% to 75% according to several spam watchdog services such as Spamhaus.

Consumer Risks: “XP AntiVirus Protection” and “AntiVirus 2009”

If you downloaded either of these two programs then you can probably count yourself among the victims of this incident. “XP AntiVirus Protection” and “AntiVirus 2009”were fraudulent programs distributed by several companies and individuals who were provided hosting services by McColo.

Update Jan. 2010: As a computer service professional I receive two calls for help per week to remove spyware and fraudulent anti-spyware programs. Best Buy’s Geek Squad wants $200 — $300 to remove spyware and viruses. My recommendation, purchase Spyware Doctor(at right) for only $39.95 and protect up to 3 computers. It’s the real deal. It’s downloadable, and not available in stores. Only have one PC? Then ask a friend and/or relative if they’d like to split the cost with you.

Below are sample images of the two most common fraudlent (anti-)spyware programs circulating the web. The call them “spyware protectors” some times. Sadly what these  scammers are saying is they “protect the spyware” and not your computer.

AntiVirus 2009

AntiVirus 2009

XP AntiVirus

XP AntiVirus

Help Yourself, Help Your Computer

If you downloaded either of these fraudulent programs you should remove them immediately. To do so:

  1. Click Start > Conrol Panel
  2. Click or double-click “Add/Remove Programs” (In Vista and Windows 7 its called “Programs and Features”)
  3. Locate and click each of these programs on the list and click “Remove” or “Uninstall” for each one found.

After removing these programs, go purchase Spyware Doctorto remove any traces of these programs and the harmful software they may have added to your computer. I recommend Spyware Doctor from PC Tools—hands down—over any other antispyware software you’ll find.



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