What Are Spyware and Adware Software?

Spyware and adware are programs that are installed on your computer (usually without your knowledge) that monitor or control your computer's use. The software may send pop-up ads, redirect you to an un-requested website while you are on the Internet, monitor your Internet activity or record your keystrokes while you are online. This recording of keystrokes may lead to identity theft or credit card fraud. Any unsolicited software that runs on your computer should be considered malicious.

"Spyware", "Adware" and "Malware" (short for malicious software) are all basically the same type of software. They are programs that you may not be aware are running on your computer. This type of malicious software may be installed by viruses, worms and spam but often you CHOOSE to install it yourself.

The people who create spyware say that you have chosen to download their software to assist them in sending you SPAM emails which are tailored to your preferences. You may have received their software as part of another (usually free) program that you chose to download and install. During the download process you would have been shown a lengthy license agreement which said that you agreed to them sending you advertising material and you would have clicked to indicate that you AGREED with this. Often web sites which offer to synchronise your computer clock, display the weather, allow you to play games, provide useful toolbars or screen savers where it's all FREE can afford to do this because they are paid to ALSO get you to install spyware on your computer.

Spyware may cause a change in your opening Internet page, a new default search engine, or a whole lot of pop-up ads while you're online or worse still your computer may slow down or crash. See our information aboutanti-virus software as well.

Instructions on using some of these programs can be found here.

Spyware Distribution

Clicking on an advert on a web site or in an email may install spyware. Worms (which are self-propagating viruses) sometimes contain spyware. Computers that don't have up-to-date Windows security patches may allow spyware to be loaded. Spyware is usually distributed by email however file/music sharing programs (like Kazaa) include spyware as part of their software download.

Recently there have been a number of emails "pretending" to have come from your bank or from Microsoft which look completely genuine but which contain spyware. Trust me when I say that Microsoft is NOT going to automatically send you an email telling you about their latest update as this is handled directly from within Windows by the Windows Update site. If you're not sure what it is, or where it REALLY came from then don't click yes. Cancel out of the program any way you can, even if it means rebooting your computer.

Unlike virus writers, who mainly want to infect as many computers as they can just so they can brag, spyware distribution firms have a financial incentive to have their software stay on your computer as long as possible. The more of their ads that they load onto your computer screen, the more likely that you will click on one of the ads.

There's no such thing as a free lunch

Many people believe that they can download music and videos for "free" from the internet. They do this using a Peer-To-Peer (P2P) sharing program such as Ares, BearShare, Blubster, eMule, FreeWire, GnucDNA, Gnucleus, Grokster, KaZaA, KaZaa Lite, Kazaa-Pad, Kazoom, Limewire, Morpheus, Napster, Overnet, Overnet, PeerEnabler, SafeShare, Shareaza, Swaptor, TopText, Warez3, WinMX, Winny, Winny or XoloX.

It sounds just wonderful. They work by opening up YOUR computer and indexing what is on YOUR computer so that OTHER users of Limewire etc can connect to YOUR computer without having to ASK you so that they can download information from YOUR computer. In return for allowing other people to STEAL things from YOUR computer you are allowed to steal information from THEIR computers.

This is information about Grokster from the Pest Patrol site:
"Grokster is a Peer-To-Peer File Sharing program. It offers free, peer-to-peer fast and detailed searches, no incomplete/failed downloads, auto resume, fast downloads, file preview, and ability to handle all file types. In an organisation, Grokster can severely degrade network performance and consume vast amounts of storage. Installs numerous other products, including Active Delivery, CasinoOnNet, ClipGenie, CommonName, Cydoor, DelFin Media Viewer, DownloadWare, eUniverse, FavoriteMan, FlashTrack, Gator, IGetNet, IGetNet/ClearSearch, IncrediFind, IPInsight, Look2Me, Lycos.SideSearch, NetworkEssentials, NetworkEssentials/SCBar, PeopleOnPage, RVP, SAHAgent, Search-EXE, SearchEnhancement, TOPicks, VX2/e, VX2/f, and Webhancer."

For a start what you are doing is illegal but more importantly you are inviting other people in to trash your computer and steal your information. I don't know whether some/all of these programs cause problems themselves but in any event they open a door into your computer that allows other programs to be installed and to infect your computer.

While other people are stealing information from your computer then your computer is busy servicing their requests. So part of your processing power is being used to send out your information to other people. Is your computer running slow? Well perhaps it's because you are having LOTS of information stolen from you at the moment. We have seen quite a few computers recently which are running so slowly that they are virtually unusable. When we've removed Limewire they all of a sudden start acting like the new fast computer that you originally purchased.

Once you have opened the door into your computer there is nothing standing in the way of other people stealing ANY of your information. Limewire may just allow you to steal music and videos but a savvy hacker can use the open door to steal any of your personal and private information. They could steal your banking information, your business and taxation records - anything that's on your computer. (I guess one way of thinking about it is that someone else is making a backup of your data for you - it's just that you don't know who it is or where it is but at least when your computer finally crashes from using Limewire you can be sure that your data isn't lost - it's just in someone else's hands). Don't Use This Sort of Software

"I've had LimeWire installed on my computer for ages. It hasn't caused any problems"

Now if only I had a dollar for every time I've been told THIS one. Sure that's the way it works. For a while you get to download lots of free stuff but over time you find that your computer runs slower, and slower and slower. You won't notice it at first. It's interesting to note that nearly EVERY person who has told me about how good LimeWire is eventually comes back to me and says ... "my computer is running really slowly - can you have a look and see what it is?" The first thing I do is uninstall Limewire and then install and run several anti-spyware programs. Sometimes the infestation is so bad that I have to remove the hard disk and add it onto another computer as a secondary drive in order to clear some of it up before putting it back into the original machine and running the programs again. I've often seen machines that take over half an hour to boot-up and take about 5 minutes to respond to ANYTHING that you click on.

Is Your Computer Infected

To eliminate spyware, you must track down every file and completely erase it. That can be tough since spyware hides inside your computer's operating system, making it difficult to find. Some companies that offer anti-spyware software solutions also make spyware software. (Who else would know how to remove spyware then the makers of spyware software?)

You may download free spyware cleaning programs from: CA Anti-Spyware (VET), Ad-Aware or SpyBot - Search and Destroy. Before you run any of these, use their automatic update feature to get the latest protection. Some users report better results when they make repeated passes with each of the three programs. Instructions on using some of these programs can befound here. We have had more success with the CA Anti-spyware product finding and eliminating valid spyware products but, if you use their TRIAL versions, they have VERY annoying nag screens to encourage you to purchase the product and there are only two ways to get rid of the annoying screens.

  1. Purchase a licensed copy of the software using your credit card or
  2. Once you have cleaned up your spyware infection you can uninstall it again.
Obviously the best way to get rid of the nag screen is to purchase the product if you have found it useful.

Scan your hard drive at least once a week with two or more anti-spyware programs because each is likely to find files the other overlooks. We have found that Pest Patrol and Ad-Aware detect and remove different types of spyware and I found it quite surprising that after I ran one of them and my machine came up clean I then ran a different spyware cleaner and it found another 47 suspects on my computer. It doesn't seem to matter which order you run them in - each time you run a new program it finds something else the other program didn't find.

Cleaners can remove most of an infection, rendering it temporarily inactive. But components sometimes remain that download more files and re-infect your computer. Sometimes it helps to disconnect from the Internet, then reboot after you run the cleaner. If you know how to manage a fire wall like Zone Alarm, you may be able to use it to prevent persistent spyware from reconstituting itself or install Windows-XP Service pack 2 which contains an updated, basic firewall.

If your computer is so bogged down with spyware, you may have trouble downloading the anti-spyware products before your computer crashes. In that case, you may have to obtain the programs from another computer with a CD burner, and then load the software onto your troubled computer using a CD.

Ongoing Anti-Spyware Protection

To prevent future infections, don't click on any popup ads or the body of any spam emails. Try closing unwanted pop-up ads using Alt-F4 in Windows. The Alt-F4 is a keystroke combination that decreases the risk you'll click on a disguised button to close a window that will actually open another window.

Keep your computer up to date with the latest security patches. Microsoft offers free updates and free CDs (well, free except for postage and handling charges) can be ordered for users on slow-speed dial-up. Microsoft recently announced the release of XP's Service Pack 2, which provides additional security measures such as a limited spyware blocker and a firewall.

Next, set the computer's operating system for daily security updates.

Also set the Web browser to a medium or high-security level. For Windows, go to Microsoft's Web site for instructions. Windows XP users should install Service Pack 2, which makes it close to impossible for software to be downloaded without you being alerted. Consider switching to a browser less popular than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera or Apple Safari (for PC). They are less likely to be attacked.

If you have any problems implementing any of the above, be sure to contact your computer consultant.

Finally, practise safe surfing. That means downloading only trustworthy software, reading licensing agreements, avoiding banner ads, and deleting all spam emails without opening them (try buying Mail Washer Pro to help you with this).

Tips for Protecting You and Your Computer

On-Line Backup

We have been using the Carbonite (www.carbonite.com.au) on-line backup service for some time now. Once you have paid your fee (around US$75 pa) and installed it onto your PC you just go into Windows Explorer, right click on the files or folders that you want to backup and click on CARBONITE and then BACKUP THIS UP. From now on Carbonite will encrypt this file or folder and send it up onto it's secure website for you. Every time a file or folder is changed the changes will be backed up for you automatically. The first time I started a backup it took 3 or 4 days to backup 15Gb of my data but once it has backed up the initial data then it only backs up changes and so it seems to keep up to date quite easily. If you accidently delete a file then that file remains in your carbonite backup for 30 days before it's deleted by Carbonite and so you can go and restore these files if you need to. Best of all you don't even notice it working!

Websites That Can Help