How do I avoid spyware?

Question

How do I avoid getting infected with spyware and adware?

- Carol

Answer

This question was answered on May 4, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

In my 18 years in the computer service business, nothing has come close to the persistence and pervasiveness of spyware and adware The impact to virtually anyone running a Windows operating system can be very significant.

The overwhelming majority of folks that come to our service centers complaining about performance issues have serious infections of adware and spyware and are usually accompanied by several hundred viruses or worms.

The problem is so great that thousands of companies have created software programs that fight the scourge, which has also lulled too many users into a false sense of security.

The difference between folks that have persistent problems and those that don’t always comes down to the same thing: behavior.

Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING you install in your computer will ever protect you from your biggest risk: The User!

Something as simple as clicking on a link in an e-mail or downloading a file from a website, e-mail or an Instant Message can swiftly bypass all of the security and protection software that you have setup in your computer.

If you have teenagers in your household, they can usually be linked to lots of the problems Your teen’s lack of fear of computers can also lead to systems that become overburdened with layer after layer of unnecessary and hidden programs (How many toolbars do you see when you open the web browser?)

We see a similar scenario on a regular basis in multi-computer households with teens.

The teen’s computer is constantly in a state of flux because of the carefree approach to anything they come across online and it eventually makes it onto one of our service benches While the teen’s machine is being serviced (which can take several days because it is so infected with malicious programs), they jump on mom and dad’s computer and within a week, a brand new high-powered computer that had never experienced performance issues is suddenly running like its 8 years old.

The only change was the behavior of the user All of the security programs were in place, but the change in how the computer was used dramatically changed how the computer performed.

If you have anyone in your household that is in love with screen savers (and downloads them constantly), engages in file swapping (Kazaa, WinMX, eDonkey, etc.), surfs lots of gambling and adult content sites, exchanges files with hundreds of folks they don’t know (Instant Messaging, MySpace, etc.) or is not particularly vigilant about what they open in their e-mail, there isn’t much hope for a trouble free computing experience.

When it comes to surfing the Internet, it’s virtually impossible to tell when a website is engaging in shady adware/spyware practices just by looking at it, because the malicious code is hidden in the depths of the site

SiteAdvisor.com is offering a free program that gives you feedback when you visit a site, based on some basic criteria for identifying known offenses.

It’s not a cure all, and I caution anyone that wants to use it as the definitive decision maker, but it can alert you to known rogue sites as you visit them.

If you want to see how difficult it can be to determine the difference between a legitimate site and an adware/spyware site, take the spyware quiz on the SiteAdvisor.com site at the bottom of the page.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on May 4, 2006