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Problems with Spyware and Spam?
More and more people I know have had their computer taken over by Spyware and other programs that slowly grind their systems to a halt. What does one do about this?
Click for Microsoft's Recommendations, you'll notice #1 on their list is a firewall. They're probably right, for years I've been lucky enough to have a cable router (see below) with build-in firewall so I haven't focused that much attention on them. It's definately worth exploring the pages listed in the upper left corner of the Microsoft Protect Your PC page, they're the ones named: Updates and Maintenance, Viruses and Worms, and Spyware. They will give you a much better understanding of all these issues ... they even have some good short videos.
- Almost all of these problems start from malicious programs which take advantage of holes in Microsoft software ... not only Windows, but Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and on occasion MS Office. Except for maybe your virus protection, all the steps below involve no cost ... but if you really like some of these programs a donation to their continued development is appreciated.
- Preliminaries: Make sure your computer is not infected by either a virus or spyware that cannot be easily removed. Install Ad-Aware (see below), do a full-system scan, select all, quarantine and remove, scan again until they are all gone. Make sure your virus protection definitions are up-to-date and you have scanned your hard drives. (It is important that both of these are done before attempting to update windows, etc. Otherwise, the updates may fail and you will be in even worse shape.)
- 1st Step: Keep your version of windows up-to-date ... install critical updates or, as they are called in Windows XP, high priority updates. All Windows systems have a "Windows Update" choice somewhere under Start / Programs. Be sure to do this update at least every 2 or 3 months, or whenever you hear about a new security threat. Personally I always turn off automatic updates ... too often I've seen machines made useless by an automatic update run amuck ... and this includes automatic updates of virus protection programs and the newer security suites ones in particular. (As you see below, I don't use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express ... but if you insist on using them you need to update more frequently than this.)
- 2nd Step: Be sure you have some kind of virus protection and an up-to-date set of virus definitions ... I've not been happy with the more recent versions of either Norton or McAfee ... more on this later. My advice: keep your old software, but keep your definitions up-to-date. I'll try to find something I recommend in the next few months.
- 3rd Step: Avoid using Microsoft's Web Browser (Internet Explorer, or IE) and e-Mail Programs (Outlook Express and/or Outlook) ... they're not bad programs, but they are the first line of attack and often allow penetration of your system before Microsoft releases updates to solve each new problem. Another issue with IE is pop-ups ... they make it all too easy to install malicious programs by accident. Alternatives? See Below. As a Browser I recommend either Firefox or Opera. And as an e-Mail program I recommend Thunderbird or Pegasus (these are all free; another e-Mail alternative people like is Eudora but to get all its features you have to buy it). Note: if you use ISP's like AOL or Juno which have e-Mail programs you CANNOT replace, you don't have the alternative of another e-Mail program, but you should still stop using their Web Browser (which is Internet Explorer in disguise) and use Firefox.
- 4th Step: Scan your system for Spyware and remove it. See Ad-Aware below. If you follow all four of these steps and are not foolish enough to click on ads and foolishly install new software my experience is that you don't really need special software to protect you from spyware. (And once you get rid of IE and pop-ups, you are much less likely to install something by mistake.) The free version of Ad-Aware doesn't block spyware, so you should scan your system frequently to make sure you have really gotten rid of all of it and you're not getting any more.
Additional Protection: If you have high-speed access, get yourself a router with a built-in firewall. It's a first line of defense. I also recommend running a software firewall in addition, but most of the latest ones make your life so difficult people either configure them incorrectly or turn them off altogether... which is another reason you want the first line of defense. If you have Windows XP, and don't have another firewall, turn on the one in XP ... its defaults make it easy to turn on, and it doesn't bother you much.
- Here's a list of wireless routers -- I've used Linksys routers and don't have experience with others, I've heard others may be better. On that list, if I was getting a Linksys router, I'd probably get the WRT54GS, but mine is an older version with more lights, it looks more like the WRT55AG. Not only will this router give you protection with a single computer, but if you get a second computer this will connect them together and to the internet. It will also allow a guest in your home to access the internet from their laptop.
Downloads I've tried recently and so far like ...
- CCleaner - removes unused files and cleans out the registry, making your machine run a little faster.
- Screen Capture Utilities: Here are two I really like: FastStone Screen Capture and Screen Hunter. FastStone Screen Capture (the stand-alone program, not the screen capture built into FastStone Image Viewer) is by far the better program, but is no longer free. I recommend you try it (first 30 days are free) and if you like it, purchase a lifetime license for only $20.
- WinPatrol - Free program demonstated by Roger Nicely to control what's running on your Windows computer.
- FastStone Image Viewer - Free image organizer, viewer and editor. I really like this program! I've even created over 5 hours of video clips showing how to use various features. (If you are a member of a local club, ask me about special pricing when you see me.)
Mozilla.org's Firefox Web Browser - If you use Internet Explorer, it's time you start using another browser. For years I've been using Opera, but for most of you Firefox may be a good choice. Not only does Foxfire block pop-ups, but it even has extensions to block annoying ads. And, like Opera, Foxfire supports tabbed browsing, but to be useful you need to install the tabbed browsing extensions. As I said, my other choice is Opera, but it really enforces the HTML standards. What this means is that if some website was designed taking advantage of some Internet Explorer "feature" that is not part of the standards, the site may not display the same way it does in IE ... you may not even be able to navigate the website. Personally I think this is the fault of the website designer, and I tend to avoid those websites (or if I really need to visit them I use an alternative browser like Mozilla). If you use a dial-up connection to the internet I really recommend you use Opera or install the tabbed browsing extensions in Firefox. When using tabbed browsing in Opera (or once your figure out how to set the options in Firefox), pages load in the background, allowing you to continue reading one page while others are (slowly) loading ... makes the internet seem much faster on a dial-up line ... once you get the hang of it, you'll love it.
Mozilla.org's Thunderbird e-Mail program - This may be the best choice in a free e-Mail Program with Spam filtering, but most important is that it blocks imbedded references to the Web sites which contribute to both Spam and Spyware. Don't install until I post some suggestions in the next few days ... I've got about 20 screen shots coming soon. Another choice: personally I use another free program called Pegasus because of the way it supports multiple identities, but if you liked the various Netscape e-Mail programs or Outlook Express you may prefer Thunderbird.
AVG Anti-Virus - free from www.grisoft.com. This may not be the best anti-virus program, but the price is right and it is MUCH better than running an out-of-date anti-virus program, or none at all. Because of problems people have had with both McAfee and Norton, lately I have been trying out AVG on several machines. Download it and save it in your Downloads folder.
Make sure you uninstall whatever virus program you currently running. You may want disconnect whatever wire is connecting you to the internet and reboot. Then install AVG, reconnect to the internet and let it update itself.
For the last several years I have recommended McAfee, but have stopped recommended it because people who have paid for updates have had nothing but trouble once they install the update. If you pay them for it, they should make it easy. My experiences with Norton have been even worse. I refuse to touch anything dealing with Norton Anti-Virus on a machine.
- Tweak UI is a utility that has been available from Microsoft for over 10 years. It allows you to fine-tune your Windows User Interface (UI). However, it doesn't come with your system, you have to download it from Microsoft. There are several versions, be sure you get the right one for your system. You will probably want one of these two:
Tweak UI XP Version ... that's the link to the official versions on the Microsoft website. Since people have trouble finding the right version on that page, you might just want to download the copy on Cherryfield.net ... save it in your Downloads folder, double click to install. It will appear in a Power Toys Folder under All Programs on your start menu. I usually move the short-cut out of that folder into my Microsoft folder and then delete the empty Power Toys folder.
Tweak UI Win 95/98/Me/2000 Version ... installing this one is a little different; follow the directions on this page and you should have no trouble. Once installed you'll find it on your Control Panel.
LavaSoft Ad-Aware - Go to one of the Download sites they list for the free version which they call Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition. It will scan your system for Spyware, you then select each one it finds (check all the boxes) and quarantine them ... enter something like the date, I use MMYYDD format, as the name of the quarantine file. After you quarantine them, you can later either delete the quarantine archives or restore an individual file.
- Belarc Advisor - Click on "Free Download". Detailed audit of your PC including version and license codes of installed software. Worth running and printing every so often ... nothing is ever reported back to big brother. Here's what the start of the report looks like ...
Depending on how much software you have installed it will be 4-8 pages long.
- 3M Post-It Notes - (Nothing to do with Spyware or Spam, but a response to recent request for a reminder program.) Click on Download and then choose the free version, Post-It Notes Lite. Gives you yellow sticky notes on your desktop. Personally I like the option under preferences which says "Notepad Display - Taskbar Notification Only" and I turn off the "Always on Top" option. (Warning: a machine is on local network seemed to start hanging up after this program was installed and the problem seemed to go away when it was removed ... if anyone else has this problem let me know.)
ISP's people have been happy with ...
- 207ME ($6.95/month) - My only recommendation for the last couple of years. Although their primary focus is customers in Maine, they do have local numbers most everywhere. Let me know and I'll help you setup an account.
- Netscape ($9.95/month)
- PeoplePC ($5.47 3-month trail, $10.95/month)
All of these ISP have thousands of access numbers, but make sure the one you choose has a number up north that is a local call for you. If someone want's to sign-up for HighStream, give me a call and I'll help you, I want to see exactly how their sign-up process works.
Other links ...
Links added in 2006:
- Screen Hunter and FastStone Image Viewer (see downloads above.)
Links added in 2005:
- WinkFlash ;) (photo prints on-line)
- Langa Newsletter - Anti-Spyware Tips from Fred Langa, especially note the free Microsoft anti-spyware program ... you might want to subscribe to his newsletter.
- How Much Protection Is Enough? - Article by Fred Langa in Information Week.
- How To Test And Tune Your Online Connection - Article by Fred Langa in Information Week.
- Kim Komando - Another weekly newsletter, daily tips, etc.
- CounterSpy - Anti-Spyware Software which was highly recommended by a friend. You can use it free for 15 days, but then you have to pay for it. If your machine is badly infected by Spyware that starts up automatically you might want to try this ... it has tools which might help eliminate them more effectively.
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