Evil spyware bastards
Part rant, part help. I spent almost four hours last night clearing one virus and countless bits of spyware off two PCs at Caz’s house. I’m not going to have a go at her or her folks, but the setup was sadly typical of so many PCs I encounter – no spyware protection and one PC without a virus scanner or firewall. I can name one Chunky and one father where I’ve spent similar lengths of time on the same problems.
Points to note, people. Although a firewall on your “gateway” PC (the one physically connected to the internet) can protect the network from certain nefarious deeds, the same cannot be said of a virus scanner on that machine. Short of server-based products and the like, a virus scanner on a PC protects that PC and no other. Same for spyware scanners.
However weak your technical skills are, I urge you to read the following. Copy it and send it to all your friends – and include the links if you can. I’ve put them in longhand to ensure they get copied. Ask me if you have any questions.
You can protect your home and personal PC, very well, for free. The only paid-for product I’m using is Norton 2002, and when the license expires on that I’m switching to AVG. The products I would suggest you run are as follows:
One point to note with ZoneAlarm is that it’s no use on a gateway PC unless you buy the “Pro” version. It will block isolate the PC it is on and prevent it sharing its internet connection. Kerio Personal Firewall is slightly more complex, but doesn’t have this limitation. For ease of use, I’d go for ZoneAlarm, though once it’s settled in Kerio is no more difficult to maintain. Indeed, for those with more technical knowledge, it more easily configurable.
I would recommend either of these over the default Windows XP firewall – disable this and install one of them. The Windows XP firewall only prevents traffic coming in. In the event you do get infected, a lot of these programs will try to send information out from your PC and it will neither spot nor prevent this.
If possible, download these applications on another machine that’s already safe. Copy them to the target machine and then install them – this way you’re not exposing an unprotected machine to the internet while you download them. When I first built my current PC, I had XP Home (unpatched) on it and within 30 seconds of going online I’d been hit by a virus. No exaggeration. Half a minute! This could have been prevented with one tiny patch that’s included in XP Service Pack 1. It was actually the firewall I’d installed that alerted me to the fact I had this virus as it attempted to send data out from my PC.
I would recommend installing in the order listed above. Also, when installing, if a product offers you the chance to check for updates – do it. Ensure the product is fully installed (i.e. reboot if necessary, re-check for downloads) before moving on to the next.
SpywareBlaster and Spybot S&D work in tandem. When installing S&D, ensure you click the option to run the “TeaTimer” application. This is a little app that sits in the system tray and monitors changes to your registry. Imagine it like a firewall – it asks you to confirm certain changes and can be an indicator that spyware has sneaked onto your PC.
Once you have SpyBot installed, go to the “Innoculate” page and ensure it’s all enabled. Any time you update SpywareBlaster, it’s worth popping to this page to ensure S&D is updated as well.
Run a full system scan with the antivirus, S&D and AdAware once a week, checking you have the most recent updates before each. I’d recommend against running them all at the exact same time though! If you leave your computer on overnight, you can schedule most virus scanners and S&D to fire off at set times. AdAware will have to be done manually.
While mentioning automation, SpywareBlaster can be made to update automatically but only for the paid version. Up to you whether you think this is worth it.
The final step is to keep Windows updated. I’m assuming you use Windows if you’re concerned about security as apparently Linux machines and Macs are all completely virus free and never suffer adware or malware, ever. Frankly, I think this is crap though I believe they’ll be much less of a target if not utterly safe.
Windows can be set to auto-update (at least, XP can), though it’s still worth checking http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com on a regular basis. Ensure you have everything from the “high priority” section installed ASAP. Optional software is – as it says – optional. Avoid the hardware updates – stick with the drivers from your hardware manufacturer if you’re that concerned about getting your graphics card working speedily etc.
One of the main vulnerabilities in Windows is Internet Explorer. Using these programs, the browser should be pretty much safe. If you’re massively concerned, however, try one of the alternatives such as Firefox. The reason this is safer isn’t because it’s code is less buggy, it’s simply that it’s less popular (though an excellent browser) and therefore less useful as a target. If spyware authors wanted to take advantage of Firefox, Mozilla or any other browser then they could. Personally, I still use IE. It works, I’m used to it, it does what I want. I tried Firefox, Opera and Mozilla and I’ve stuck with what I know.
Again, if you have any suggestions, comments or questions – drop me an email. Spammers, spyware authors, virus writers and so on are about as low a piece of scum you can get as far as computers are related. It’s not too difficult to make their “job” pointless, one PC at a time.
I’ll end on a reminder – don’t install these applications and then think you’re safe. Keep them updated. Manually check for updates at least once a week. The one thing worse than no security is a false sense of security.
Update from SFG:
Trojan Remover (http://www.simplysup.com) Not anti virus but very good at finding and disabling malware. I personally know the guy who wrote it. He does pretty much nothing apart from work on Trojans and how to find & disable them. The database is updated every couple of days. 30 day trial then one time registration required. I have never been without it on any PC it in 4 years.
Hijack This (http://www.merijn.org/index.html) Used this a couple of times in the past to get rid of cool web search and the like. Not a deterrent but a good fix if you’re infected.
World’s scariest text message
“Omg! Tescos are selling ‘stimulators’ in the fem hygiene aisle!”
Anni – I needed to know this why? Now, had you been telling me that they were doing Kate Winslets on 3 for 2, next to the Brut then fine.
Consider changing your mobile provider to someone who only gives you 10 free texts a month. Please. Spare me. I beg you.
Besides, Boots have advertised that they’re doing a full range of adult products now. You’re better off shopping in there. Likely cheaper than Ann Summers as well, I warrant.
Going to watch the match at home tonight. I was vaguely considering the pub, but I ended up at work an hour later than I was meant to. It’s the usual. All afternoon with not a lot to do and all of a sudden at 16:20… “Can you do this? It has to be done today.”
So, I dutifully spent almost 90 minutes performing this task. I rang the guy up to let him know it was done and he’s gone home. Grr.
This meant by the time I got back, the heavens had opened and KK was all soaked through and cold. Which wouldn’t have happened if I’d left at half four!
Well, dinner’s in the oven and should be ready for the match. I’m having out-of-date Tetleys and a warmed-up Greggs chicken pastie. It’ll be like being on the terraces… almost as cold if my heating doesn’t buck its ideas up.