Spyware and You.

June 13, 2004

Just to follow-up yesterday’s post about Spyware and Viruses

There are a few little rules to anti-spyware programs that may not be terribly obvious until you’ve used them for awhile.

  1. Never use old anti-spyware.  Every time you run the things, download a new set of definitions, or a complete new program.  Otherwise, you run the risk of either removing something you shouldn’t, or (worse) not removing something you should.
  2. Yes, you need to run both programs (AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy)—each of them finds things that the other one doesn’t.  Today for instance, on my PC, Spybot S&D found 6 problems (not counting cookies), and after they were removed, AdAware found one more.  If I’d have ran them in the other order, what each found would have probably been different, but the end result would have been the same.
  3. Use great caution with the “protection” or “immunization” features of anti-spyware.  Your milage may vary, but every time I’ve ever tried these features, they’ve ended up blocking me from doing legitimate things or going to legitimate sites.  The good news is that these are pretty much the features that the manufacturer wants to charge money for, so use the free scanning features and forget the rest.
  4. Use great caution with anti-spyware programs other than these two—some of the stuff out there labeled “anti-spyware” actually installs its own spyware.  Sheesh. For that matter, watch the links you use to get to these products—some of the results Google will return for these product names will not take you anyplace you’d want to go—the links above are correct.
  5. Anti-spyware is not “set and forget”—you need to run it periodically.  How often?  At least once every 30 days would be a good idea.  If your machine is acting flakey, or you see something strange and new, run it now.  For example, today for some reason, Internet Explorer started acting flakey on me—if I typed an address into the address bar, it wouldn’t find it unless I included the “http://” at the front (which should not be required).  I downloaded and ran AdAware and Spybot S&D, and the problem went away.

Another great idea is to try to wean yourself off of Internet Explorer.  Which is not to say it’s a bad browser (that’s another discussion), but the fact is that it’s the biggest damn target out there.  Did you ever see the “Far Side” cartoon with the deer that had a bullseye birthmark on it’s chest (“Bummer of a birthmark, Hal”)? Yeah, like that.  Why make yourself a target if you don’t need to be?  I have to run IE mostly because I have to build and support sites that run on it.  When I’m not doing that, I use something else when I’m browsing on the PC.

Mozilla FireFox is an excellent free alternative to IE. It’s small, fast, sexy, and best of all, it supports tabbed browsing.  Have you ever gotten tired of having a zillion IE windows open?  Tabbed browsing will be your new best friend.  If you run into a site that absolutely insists on you using IE, you’ve still got it handy.

Last but not least, popups and spyware go together like stink and cat boxes.  Until Microsoft gets around to shipping their popup blocker update, install the Google Toolbar. Not only is it handy, but it includes a pop-up blocker (FireFox has one built-in, of course). None of the pop-up blocking technology is 100% (there is the inevitable arms race between popup builders and the blocker writers), but they’ll stop the vast majority of them.

Play safe…


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