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Michael's Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1 - Spyware
Chapter 2 - Viruses
Chapter 3 - The Solution
     One: Anti-Virus Software
     Two: Windows Update
     Three: Your Browser Choice
     Four: Anti-Spyware Software
     Five: E-Mail Attachments
     Six: Firewall
     Seven: Preview Panes
Chapter 4 - The Most Drastic Solution

 

introduction
Recently I've been approached by a lot of people who are having serious trouble with their computers including slowness, freezing, pop-up ads, etc. Some of them were actually considering purchasing a new computer to solve the problem. In most cases, this is not necessary. There is nothing wrong with your computer itself. Your problem is most likely spyware(also known as malware) or a virus. I hope this document helps everyone defend their computer from what is now the biggest blight on home and business computers. Because spyware and viruses are so closely related, I will cover them both.

TIPWhile the info in this guide will definately assist you in preventing infections, there will be smoe instances where your computer has already been infected and you may not be able to remove it yourself. In those cases you should seek professional assistance from someone such as me. I DO NOT recommend going to the "big box" services such as Best Buys' Geek Squad. You are much better off with a small private service.

Chapter 1 - Spyware

WHAT IS SPYWARE?
Spyware comes in many forms. It can behave much like a virus. It gets its name because it sometimes sends information about your computer and/or your usage to its author so that they can target you for advertising purposes. It can be in the form of a browser extension such as a search toolbar, some cute application such as Bonzi Buddy or something that you don't even know you installed. More malicious spyware will hijack your browser's homepage or search reults, change settings in your web browser (and prevent you from changing them back) or add entries to your Windows registry which will make it impossible to delete the software.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE SPYWARE ON MY COMPUTER?
Due to their sneaky nature, spyware will not make it obvious that it is present. They install themselves in ways that prevent Windows from recognizing them as programs. They usually do not show up in the Add & Remove Programs control panel. This is the reason that special tools are often required to remove them.

However, there are some signs that will suggest you have been infected. An abnormally slow system is a sign of infection. If your computer seems to be working harder than it should be based on what you are doing. Then you may be infected. For instance, if you are simply typing an e-mail your hard disk should not be constantly accessing data. Also, if you experience freezes (even if only for a few seconds at a time) this could indicate an infection. If your CPU usage is extremely high and you are not doing much, it is possible spyware is at work in the background.

TIPTo check your CPU usage, open the Task Manager by right clicking on the Task Bar or by pressing CTRL-ALT-DELETE and selecting Task Manager. Then click on the Performance tab.

Another telltale sign is popups. If you are getting ads popping up constantly, especially when you aren't even clicking on anything, then you almost definitely have some sort of spyware on your computer. You may also noticce strange behavior from your web browser, such as your homepage changing, new toolbars that you don't remember installing or your clicking on Google search result mights take you to something other than the page you expected.

HOW DOES SPYWARE GET ON MY COMPUTER?
Because no one wants to accidentally get infected with spyware, the authors have had to come up with more aggressive ways to get their software on your computer. One common way is to get you to do it for them by installing certain applications. These are often "fun" applications, such as little creatures that roam your desktop like Bonzi Buddy or little games. You might view these things as harmless, but while the cute purple gorilla is entertaining you he's also trashing your system.

Spyware will often be a separate program that will install itself along with the program you think you are downloading. Checking the End User License Agreement (EULA) can sometimes tip you off to this before you install something. But, if a company is unscrupulous enough to surreptitiously install software on your computer, it's not a stretch to imagine that they would lie in their EULA also.

You can also get spyware by inadvertently clicking on links on websites. You will often get popup ads that say that you are infected with spyware. When you click on the button that looks like it will "fix" your problem you are actually installing the spyware. This is why it's important to know what you are clicking on and protect yourself from such aggressive tactics. (I'll explain how to protect yourself later.) You hsould know what your anti-virus software looks like. Getting a warning trying to scare you into clicking on something that doesn't look like your anyi-virus program should be a huge warning sign.

TIPNever click a "close" button on a popup ad. This will often still cause spyware to install on your computer. Instead click the window's normal close box. (The X in the upper right) No matter what the window looks like, do not click on anything within it.

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