Malware/ Adware/ Spyware
It's a Jungle out there

Just as you thought you had viruses and SPAM under control here comes another malicious life-form to make your life miserable.

What is it?

A genre of software that silently runs in your computer without your permission in order to fulfil some purpose that has no value to you - or, most likely, a great deal of negative value.

Where does this come from?

Your "software supplier" in this case is at best an unscrupulous chancer desperately trying to sell you something. At worst he's a terrorist. In between are student types just flexing their technical muscles to show their peers how clever they are.

What are the risks?

So-called "Trojan Horses" probably represent the greatest risk. These are gateways that allow the perpetrator to control your computer in order to attack other peoples' computers. This enables them, for example, to hit target sites hard enough to knock them out. The Pentagon would be a typical target for this type of attack and you would not be aware that your computer was a front line warrior.

If that doesn't worry you - and it should - how would you like your hard drive erased? How about becoming the originator of serious quantities of inappropriate SPAM targetted at your friends and business contacts? These are just a couple of the nice things your computer could be doing in its spare time.

With the high growth of internet-enabled fraud, "phishing" is reportedly becoming a serious problem. Not content to grab the car keys from your hall table using a fishing rod through your letterbox, the bad guys are now using Trojans to monitor your keystrokes. This way they can sniff your credit card numbers and bank account access details. If you have carelessly "given" this data to a 3rd party the bank is not legally obliged to cover your loss. (Check the small print.)

Can we legislate?

Yes, but that would have no practical effect as these guys are not only offshore but are also covering their tracks with great skill.

What shall we do then?

Jack it all in and go back to a quill pen? Well you may but I like all this IT stuff and I seem to have lost the facility of legible handwriting. I guess I have a typewriter somewhere in the attic but my typing has also deteriorated too far for that to be useful. I suppose I could always cut the phone lines and purchase some fine and cuddly carrier pigeons.

Better to start looking for the transparent needles in your 40 gigabyte haystack. Some of the available tools bear similarity to those that already protect you against viruses. One that I have mostly used - PestPatrol - was recently acquired by Symantec, the company behind the Norton products. The others such as Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-aware are said to be just as good.

These tools work like the virus checkers you already use. Make sure you are using current versions and opt for continuous updates if offered.

OK, so that's our machine cleaned up. However, none of these products is perfect and when new bad stuff arrives it can do a lot of damage before your next scan picks it up. So let's also stop these nasty pests getting into your machine in the first place. Much the same measures apply as for SPAM.

  • Virus checkers to check your mail - regularly updated
  • Block Active-X controls trying to load from web pages (except sites that you explicitly trust)
  • That mail preview window - shut it!
  • Check that your firewall is doing the business
  • Apply the treatment to all machines on your local area network

Kiss goodbye to a few more hours of your valuable time. Oh no! that leaves no time available to go on that time management course.

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