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How to Prevent the Online Invasion of Spyware and Adware

by Enrique de Argaez, webmaster


Many definitions are circulating, but the generic term "malware" essentially refers to "adware" and "spyware" programs that are loaded onto computers from the Internet, often unknown to the computer user.

These malware programs often change browser settings, alter system files and create new default Web pages. Typically, infected systems are plagued with new tool bars and a constant barrage of popup ads. Scores of useless and annoying Web sites can be added to your "favorites" folders without you having selected them!

Typically, malware will also collect personal information from users' systems regarding their Web activities, transferring it to advertising and data-research companies. These companies determine the Web sites that users frequent and employ the information to tailor the ads they send to individual users. Several malware programs even regularly update their own program codes on infected computers...


Popup and popunder ads are another great nuisance originated by adware, but more importantly, malware also causes computers to perform poorly. Frequently, infected systems freeze up or crash.

The most common way for malware to work its way into your system is to piggyback on a free program that is downloaded from the Internet. Most users click on an "I agree" or "I accept" button without reading the long and complex license agreement that expresses consent to place the malware onto their systems.

These days, most users have been warned about not clicking into unknown attachments or accepting downloaded programs. Unfortunately, at this point, a "wrong click" is not all you have to be worried about. More sophisticated malware programs are now employing the so-called "drive-by downloads." All you have to do to become infected with malware these days is visit a popular and presumably safe Web site, where malware can automatically latch onto your system.

High-speed Internet users are also at greater risk for spyware due to the lack of consumer usage of built-in firewalls, the speed at which spyware files can download and because of the "always on" nature of broadband. Once downloaded onto a computer, spyware can be difficult to find, uninstall or disable.

Set Up Your Defenses

So, what protections against malware are available? Certainly, the best time to address malware and viruses is before they find their way onto your computers. Various emerging technologies and service providers can assist you with analyzing network traffic patterns, monitor your systems and practices, assess risk exposure, and recommend remedial measures.

Minimally, adequate pop-up blockers and firewalls should be installed and regularly maintained. Experts recommend rebuilding networks into easily isolatable segments to keep malware from overwhelming core networks.

Many anti-malware and anti-virus products exist, some better than others, and some more expensive than others. There are also excellent free programs, Here is a list from Freebyte . It is important to remember the importance of updating anti-malware and anti-virus programs. New malware is designed every day, and whenever a new defensive product or revision hits the market, it is only a matter of time before the malware designers find creative ways to circumvent the software. This continuous game requires you to constantly update your protective software. Below several tools you can use to avoid and to remove malware are presented.

Legal Liabilities Abound

Some businesses have looked to deal with malware concerns by tightening company Internet usage policies. These companies are limiting employees' Internet access, and some are going so far as to prohibit Internet usage completely. While recognizing the benefits of unrestricted employee access to the Internet, some companies have concluded that the risk, time and money devoted to defending against attacks far outweigh any potential benefits.

When you get down to the basics, using broadband connections in the workplace to download files for personal use does more than steal productivity and cheat employers out of bandwidth costs. Employees generally are not aware of the damage their P2P and instant-messaging use does to their companies.

File Sharing Dangers

File-sharing through the dozens of software piracy mills on the Internet and well-known peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa , Morpheus , iMesh, eDonkey, Gnutella, LimeWire and Grokster accounts for thousands of illegally downloaded music files, games, movies and software.

Computer security experts warn that more harm than the mere theft of intellectual property by piracy occurs through participation in file-sharing over the Internet. For example, use of file-sharing operations usually leads to situations in which computers -- and even networks -- are infected with spyware, malware and backdoors left ajar for hackers.

MP3 downloads remain a big draw, despite continuing lawsuits against downloaders by the music industry. Computer users can find just about anything through file-sharing and P2P exchanges. Much of the software available on P2P networks comes cracked, meaning antipiracy activation technologies that are supposed to ensure use only by legitimate purchasers are disabled. Other software can be downloaded with serial numbers included in the zipped file so installation is not impeded. But all of this seemingly free software is not without risks.

Spyware is a byproduct of peer-to-peer file-sharing. People are generally unaware of how easily spyware gets into their computers. The programs required to participate in peer-to-peer networks do not just help people share music files. They share whatever they can find on the hard drive and the network.

Malware, bad enough on a consumer's home PC, is worse when it enters the workplace. Some forms of spyware can track user activity, identify files and their locations, and capture passwords. This sensitive personal and corporate data then can be automatically uploaded to servers controlled by spammers, mass marketers and hackers. Employees generally are not aware of the damage their P2P and instant-messaging use does to their companies.

File-sharing is sharing company information. Often, workers contribute software put on corporate networks in exchange for the downloads they get. Some people don't realize that P2P applications can search for files and other software and upload them unknowingly.

According to IDC, employees at up to 70 percent of businesses are using free, consumer-oriented instant messaging, in some cases without corporate IT consent. Many IM applications, by default, give direct file-sharing access to computer users listed on each other's buddy lists.

Thus, while employees chat away on company time, they can be manipulated to expose their corporate networks to attack. The MyDoom worm was first distributed through P2P networks by file-sharers.

Often, employees also are tempted to use their high-speed connections at work to download songs, movies and software through P2P applications. Besides compromising network security, their association with illegal file-sharing creates legal liabilities for their employers. More often than not, companies aren't aware of software license violations and other infractions their workers commit through file-sharing.

On the other hand, there are numerous claims that could be brought by a business that has become infected by malware, but litigation may not be a viable option. The costs associated with a lawsuit will be significant and the results of litigation are uncertain, given that there are no federal laws in place that directly address malware. Also, the responsible parties might be judgment-proof.

Increasingly, legislatures have taken notice of the malware problem, and at least one has taken action. Earlier this year, Utah became the first state to enact anti-malware legislation. The Utah law generally prohibits companies from installing software that pops up advertisements without users' consent, sending personal information to third parties and installing software that reports users' online actions.

Governments in most countries have been slow to act. The Information Highway involves international commerce, so it is an issue to be addressed at a global level. The drain on critical business assets and resources is considerable, and it's growing at an alarming rate. Malware has increased in sophistication, and it will continue to grow in complexity and in the nefarious ways in which it operates.

The costs associated with dealing with this problem will continue to explode. One recent survey released by ICSA Labs, a provider of risk management products and services out of Virginia, states that the median cost of disaster recovery from a virus and/or malware infection is about $11,000. Virus and malware encounters more than doubled in 2003, according to ICSA Labs. And, 88 percent of survey respondents - all security managers - believe that the problem is getting worse.

Prevention Is Possible - Here are Seventeen Tips

Spam, viruses and spyware continue to grow exponentially, despite the first federal law regulating junk e-mail going into effect last January, and other laws combating spyware and adware. All these nuisances are associated and we must be always careful because they can come from e-mail, from downloading software, and by simply clicking a link in an unsafe website.

There are ways to fight these menaces, however. Here are 17 tips to help you avoid spam, virus, spyware, adware and malware:


A - Be careful with the spam you receive

1 - Don't buy anything promoted in a spam message.

2 - Don't reply to spam or click on its "unsubscribe" link. That simply informs the sender that your e-mail address is valid.

3 - If your e-mail program has a preview pane, disable it to prevent the spam from reporting back to its sender.

4 - Use one e-mail address for family and friends, another for everyone else. When an address attracts too much spam, abandon it for a new one. Select an address with embedded digits, such as jane8doe2@isp.com.

5 - If you get lots of spam, check your Internet service provider's filtering features and compare them with those of competitors.

6 - To help the Federal Trade Commission control spam, forward it to
spam@uce.gov.

7 - Don't post your e-mail address in its normal form on a publicly accessible Web page. Post it in a form, such as "Jane AT isp DOT com," that can't be easily read by harvesting software.

B - Beware of viruses and hackers

8 - Don't open an e-mail attachment unless you were expecting it.

9 - Use anti-virus software and heed security alerts e-mailed directly from anti-virus vendors to download antidotes for newly circulating viruses and worms.

10 - Install a firewall with both incoming and outgoing protection.

11 - Regularly update your operating system, Web browser and other major software.

12 - Use passwords that are at least eight characters long that include at least one numeral and one symbol. Never disclose a password online.

13 - When you aren't using the computer, shut off the modem or the computer itself.

C - Beware of New Software Downloads

14 - Download and install software only from trusted sources. Close windows containing pop-up ads or unexpected warnings by closing the entire window, not by clicking within the window.

15 - clicking on "Agree" or "OK." Read any privacy statements. If they are difficult to find or include questionable practices, abort the installation by closing the window in which it's occurring.

16 - Adjust your Web browser's security settings. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, keep its security level at medium or higher to block Web sites from downloading a file without your authorization.

17 - Use updated anti-spyware software to scan your hard drive regularly. Always download it from a trusted site. Update the anti-spyware.


One good way to avoid popups is to use the
Firefox browser for surfing. This browser is faster than the Internet Explorer and much safer and has a popup blocking feature. This option can be activated or de-activated easy. Download Firefox for free here and enjoy a great popup-free faster surfing experience.

Another possibility is to use the new free toolbars that come with ad popup blocking features. One of them that I use and recommend is the Google Toolbar.

Here are some Tools to Clean Spyware from your PC

There are many new tools, some are free and some are for purchase. The following have been tested on my PC and work well. They are all helpful and safe. Always follow the easy instructions included with each cleaning tool. An important point to remember is to place the spyware in quarentine first. Test your computer and programs. Then, and only then, you can safely remove the spyware, adware, etc.

- Try Window Washer for free and enhance your privacy protection. The original and best selling system-cleaning tool on the market, a must have surfing tool.

- The
Spy Sweeper was recently featured in the New York Times, on CBS Evening News and awarded 4-Stars by PC Magazine. Check out this tool, a quality solution to a real-world online threat, free trial here. This program has safety features that allow you to block and avoid the action of the malware.

- The
Pop Up Washer is another tool that stops the growing threat of ads delivered through the Windows Messenger Service. Allows desirable navigation windows while stopping intrusive ads. Click here to buy or to test drive for free the Pop Up Washer.

Other recommended tools to consider are
ad-aware, an excellent Swedish product. Comes free for personal use. Spybot Search and Destroy is another good freeware program. You may download it from Spybot, where additional information is available.

Updates are Necessary

Similarly to the anti-virus tools, the spy- and adware tools need to be up-dated frequently to be effective. This is very important to remember. Please keep in mind that each tool has its own special features. See at Websense the latest security warnings on malicious Internet events including spyware, phishing and corrupted Web sites.

Personally, in order to get rid of ALL the spyware and adware in my PC I use several tools together, one right after the other. Some tools also have features to block the access points and protect the computer from these nuisances in the future. Most of the adware and spyware reproduce themselves if not fully removed from your computer. Get rid of them completely, including all the traces.

According to statistics, about 90% of all computers are infected with malware. This is a growing problem for everyone that uses the Net. It is possible to fight badware. The Stop Badware Organization can be contacted for help. They seek to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers.

To detect if Spyware is running in your PC you can do a free and safe spyware audit scan in your PC.
Click here for details. It's fast and safe, the results might surprise you!


Take care,

Ricky



About the Author:
Enrique De Argaez (Ricky) is the webmaster of the
"Internet World Stats" website. Since 2000 he has been publishing Internet Usage Statistics and population data from over 233 countries and regions of the world for free use by the academia, the global business community and the general public. For more information on Internet World Usage, please visit: http://www.InternetWorldStats.com/stats.htm



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