Well, I've been learning a lot, thanks to all of you. Now I would like to write an article that I can give to people I know that will help spread the word about spyware, adware, trojans, hijackers, keyloggers, etc. It needs to cover all the bases and answer these questions: Where's this stuff come from? (ie., what are our kids doing???) How do we get rid of it? And how do we keep it from coming back. I've gotten a start, and would love to get feedback to help me make it the best possible. Remember it's geared toward folks that really don't know much about computers, so we have to keep it simple. This isn't something I intend to publish, but just in case I ever were to publish it, I *promise* I will give credit to everyone who helps me with it!! Seriously though, I just want a nice handout that I can give to folks, especially as kids are heading off to college with new computers. Thanks!!
Teenagers and Spyware
Why does your computer keep getting overloaded with pop-up advertising and spyware? Here are three primary reasons:
1) Surfing pornography related web sites. Just don’t do it.
2) Surfing for free games and other free software. This includes the free search bars. Most free software is sponsored by “adware” – software that allows them to display adverting on your computer. To make this type of advertising more effective they install “spyware” on your computer to learn about your surfing habits. If they know what types of sites you visit, they can better target you with ads you might be interested in. The basic idea seems harmless, unfortunately, the spyware either is or can be used to collect additional information from your system, to download other programs without your knowledge, and in the worst case, to capture keystrokes that can then be searched for credit card numbers and other critical information, leading to identity theft.
3) Surfing for “cheat codes” or “craks”. The idea of most games is to conquer various levels, and the big competition amongst kids is to see who is at the highest level. If they get stumped by a certain level, they can get “cheat codes” that let them get past that hurdle and move onto the next level. Similar, but illegal, are “craks” – various methods of pirating software. Some craks are programs that will generate a keycode for a specific name or user, others are the actual serial numbers that people have made available to the public. The danger lays in the fact that most sites the offer cheat codes and craks are sponsored by pornography. A youngster may go looking for a simple cheat code, and be inundated by pornography related pop-ups. In some cases, they may see a pop-up that tells them to “click here” to download a program that will stop all these pop-ups. Unfortunately, that program is not what it says, it actually downloads more spyware onto the system and then the user is bombarded by even more pop-ups, even if they aren’t connected to the internet.
How can you protect your computer – and your kids?
There are several free programs you can download and run on your system that will help minimize the risks. The most important step you can take though, is education! Educate your children on the risks of the internet, and on the types of sites they need to stay away from. For cheat codes, they should stick to the books that they can buy. At least then they can see exactly what they are getting. For craks and pornography – just don’t do it! For other things, like freebies, it’s best to check with a known and trusted authority, someone who can check it out safely and let them know if it’s worthwhile.
Adaware - free
This program searches the system for known data-mining, aggressive advertising, and tracking components. It then lists the results and offers to remove or quarantine the components. Updates are available regularly, so always check for updates before scanning.
Spybot Search & Destroy – free (donations appreciated)
This program searches for many known spyware and adware components. It also offers an “immunization” feature, which will block many components so they cannot get into your system. Updates are regularly available, so be sure to check for updates before scanning.
Spysweeper – shareware with free trial
This program detects and removes many traces of spyware including Trojans, adware, keyloggers, and other system monitoring programs. This program can also run in the background to monitor your system, watching for incoming spyware and browser hijackers, warning you of any intrusion.
SpywareBlaster – free
This program doesn’t scan and clean like the others, but rather it prevents many items from being installed in the first place by disabling many options within your browser and operating system that can be exploited by malicious software.
McAfee Avert Stinger – free
This utility is used to remove specific viruses. It is NOT an antivirus program! This is only to be used in the instance of an infection and your normal methods do not remove the virus.
Trend Micro Free Online Virus Scan
This site will scan your system for viruses, and includes many Trojans. Not all Trojans are picked up by the popular antivirus programs, so if you are experiencing problems with your computer, but can still get online, this should be your very first stop. In many cases it will find Trojans that are in files that cannot be cleaned, and in most cases, these can be deleted. However, always check with a known and trusted authority first!
HiJackThis - free
This program will check the system registry for all installed browser add-ons, buttons, startup items, etc., and then allows you to select the items for removal. This is an advanced program and should only be used under the direction of an expert. However, it is a good idea to have this program, as you can save the results to a log file which can then be emailed to an expert for review.