Ever installed software you downloaded from the Internet? Ever clicked on “Yes” when a pop-up appeared during browsing asking if you want to install something “for free”? Is your computer slower than usual? If you can answer any of these questions (and many others) with “Yes”, you need to check your computer for Spyware. If your answers are “No”, you still need to check your PC for spyware.Nowadays, many computers are ‘infected’ with spy ware. There are many types and they all have different behaviours. In this article I’ll just mention a few of them, to get an idea.
Please note this article is meant for the ‘home user’. Only install mentioned protection software on your NIOO-KNAW PC after consulting your local system administrator.Probably the most common type of spyware is the type that collects information on (for example your browsing behaviour) and from your computer and sends this information to somebody else (for ex ample: a company, the creator). Result can be that when you visit a website about cars, the spyware pops-up a window containing an ad of a specific car brand.There’s also spyware that can cause huge phone bills like ‘diallers’.
This type of spyware dials ex pensive telephone numbers (for example pay-per minute numbers in far away countries) from your computer without your knowledge.‘Browser hijack’ spyware can force your browser to display a specific browser start page. If the start page of your browser has suddenly changed you are probably a victim of this spyware. Spyware called ‘keyloggers’ keeps track of every character you type, including passwords, credit card numbers and other confidential information. This info is also sent to its source or somebody else.As you can see, spyware can be very harmful, can cost you lots of money, and invades your privacy. So it’s important that you protect yourself against it and make sure you are not already infected.
Signals that you are infected
There are several things that could indicate infec tion. But I must warn you, it’s not always visible! Signals can be:
- Your computer runs slower than usual
- Huge telephone bills
- Unexpected network traffic
- Ads suddenly popping up (or under) Strange processes & services in your task manager
- Your browser starts up with a different page that you did not set as start page
I can understand that for non-computer experts and ‘newbies’ it can get very confusing. What’s the difference between viruses, trojan horses, spyware, diallers, adware, browser hijacks etc.? This is a separate discussion which I am not going to start here, but they all have one thing in common: you don’t want any of them on your PC.
What to do
One of the most important things to run on your PC is a reliable & up-to-date virus scanner and firewall. I personally have a good experience with Norton Internet Security 2005. It’s also very important you keep the software up-to-date. Additionally, a hardware firewall is useful too, but remember you’ll still need a software firewall on your PC too. Yet we are not finished, you need more. Spyware protection. There are many spyware scanners out there, and unfortunately you need more than one or two, because the experience is one scanner detects things the other doesn’t and vice versa. I recommend installing & configuring the following:
There’s also a software package called ‘Hitman Pro’ [http://www.hitmanpro.nl/] which combines many scanners into one simple installation. However, it doesn’t include Microsoft AntiSpyware which I highly recommend because it’s fast & very user friendly. Don’t forget to read the software’s licenses for info on usage & costs of the software mentioned in this article.
Preventing is better than removing
A few hints to avoid getting your PC infected, although there is no way to do this 100%:
1. Simply common sense: If it looks suspicious, don’t open it!
2. Avoid installing on-demand software (e.g. ActiveX objects) from the World Wide Web. For example: If you visit a website and it asks you “Do you want to install a 100% absolutely free clock for your desktop so you can see the time all the time, really it’s free, free, free” etc.etc. it’s almost certainly spyware. It’s also likely spyware when it says “This software is not spyware, really, trust us…” etc.
3. Never trust files, also from people you know, so always scan them with the latest scanner version before using them. It’s not fun, but necessary.
4. Install real-time protection on your system, for example: Microsoft AntiSpyware
Last but not least
Installing the protection mentioned in this article does not guarantee your PC is spyware/virus free, and it’s still possible that it gets infected. Besides that, protection can cause problems, for example because it blocks something it shouldn’t and because it uses resources, so it may have some disadvantages. But it’s still necessary to use it. Prevention does not just help yourself, but also the poor guy you are going to ask to help fix your PC!
Marcel Smits Webmaster & Database Administrator
(I wrote this article for the NIOO-KNAW employee magazine NIOOSCOOP #48, 2005