PDQ Library:  Spyware ~ Malware

An unprotected computer has about 4 minutes before it is hacked from the Internet, according to information from the SANS Institute (isc.sans.org).

Protecting a New Computer:
If you are reading this using a computer without any security software installed, DISCONNECT IT FROM THE INTERNET - pull out the ethernet cable and turn off any wireless routers! Before you connect your computer to the Internet for the first time, get some security software on a CD or thumb-drive using another computer (that has security software installed). Get at least a firewall program (Zonealarm, Comodo) and an antivirus program (Antivir, AVG). Install and set both to run at startup, then restart your computer. Only now is it safe to connect to the Internet. You'll find these and other free programs in our Software Downloads.

The best malware protection is you. But there are nasty websites that can net you an infection just by clicking if you don't have some real-time software to stop the damage before it starts.

Operating System Security Updates:
If you have a Windows operating system, make sure you have the latest major updates (service pack). To get the latest minor updates, run Windows Update - you'll find it in your START menu under Accessories. Set Windows Update options to notify you about new updates so you can install them at a convenient time (default automatically installs them). To update manually, run the web browser "Internet Explorer" (double-click the E icon on your main screen "desktop"), then go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com and follow the instructions to download and install Microsoft security updates, including MS Office, Word, Excel, etc.

One of the best ways to check for security updates for all your software, is a free program called Secunia PSI. Add spyware checkers such as RUBotted, SpywareBlaster, and Spybot Search & Destroy and you are on the way to keeping your new computer free of hackers and nasty software. You'll find these and other free programs in our Software Downloads.

What is Malware/Spyware?
Has your home page or default search engine suddenly changed? Do you get sudden "popups" on your screen? You could have accidentally picked up Spyware or Mal-ware or even installed a new program that does bad things. Unfortunately, the worst infections are not so obvious.

Malware can be a program or "cookie" that sends data about you or your computer to someone else connected to the Internet - and exposes your online habits, computer data, or personal information. Spyware can secretly capture your keystrokes and send it to a third party - such as passwords to bank accounts, giving them access to your money! Some spyware are trojan viruses that turn your computer into a Spam Zombie. Spyware can arrive in an email attachment that you opened, can be embedded in software you downloaded and installed, or even arrive as an automatic download from a website.

Spam Zombies and Botnets:
If you have accidentally downloaded malware, your computer could become a spam zombie. You might not notice any symptoms at all. This malicious software called a 'bot' allows someone to secretly log into your computer remotely and use it to send spam (junk email) to hundreds or thousands of people. Zombie computers in networks called Botnets, can be used by criminal hackers to launch malicious, illegal denial-of-service attacks on others on the Internet - making it look like your computer was the cause of the problem.

You may think your security software can protect your computer from "bot" control, but a 2008 study by security firm FireEye revealed that antivirus programs detect bots less than half the time. They used VirusTotal, which offers free online testing of a file for viruses, worms, trojans, and all kinds of malware using over 30 antivirus products.

Malware Prevention:

  • Regularly update your operating system, security programs, and any programs that connects to the Internet. (www.microsoft.com/security)
  • Use a firewall program, and keep it updated.
  • Use reputable sources when you download and install software. The best malware protection is YOU.
  • Scan your computer for viruses and spyware after installing new software
  • Never open email attachments that contain programs or scripts. Photos and Flash movies are usually safe, but scan all attachments with your antivirus software before viewing anyway.
  • Set your browser security to HIGH. In Internet Explorer, click Tools > Internet Options > then the Security tab.

Malware Scan & Repair Tools

Here are a few of the best-known tools to scan for and remove spyware. They are not all the same. More than one should check your computer on a regular schedule.

No single tool is perfect; and there are no tools that can't be defeated, broken, or disabled in some way, under the right circumstances. To protect a computer connected to the Internet, use a layered approach of protection: a firewall (software and hardware), antivirus software updated daily/weekly, install "Startup Monitor", run a malware scanner such as Ad-Aware, and use high security settings for email (disable Web page email, delete attachments of dangerous file types). And, of course, you never click on email attachments from a friend unless you are certain they sent it and it does not contain a virus, right?! (Viruses | Downloads)

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