FOUR: ANTI-SPYWARE SOFTWARE
There are a number of products out there that can find, remove and block spyware. They work much like anti-virus software. You must scan your system with them periodically and keep them up to date. New spyware is always popping up and the anti-spyware software is updated to stay ahead of them. Like Anti-Virus software, you accomplish this by updating the definitions. Unlike anti-virus software, you can have as many different anti-spyware programs as are necessary.
NEVER click on links in pop-up adds that purport to sell you anti-spyware software or claim you are infected with something. Amazingly, most of these are companies will sell you a product that IS spyware. They trick you into giving them money to infect your computer!
There are a few industry standards in this field. Malwarebytes (www.malwarebytes.org) will scan your machine for anything that appears to be spyware or adware. It is especialy good for the common fake anti-virus viruses. Another must have is SpyBot Search and Destroy. It can be found at www.safer-networking.org. (Be VERY careful to spell this URL correctly. If you mistype it slightly you will be sent to a site that looks like it is selling anti-spyware software, but is actually selling you spyware that will infect your system. See, I told you these companies are slimy.) Once you install Spybot and scan your system, be sure to turn on the immunization feature.
FIVE: E-MAIL ATTACHMENTS
Do not open e-mail attachments unless you know what they contain. Never. Don't even think about it. Could I be more clear here? This is how almost all viruses spread. You'll get a piece of mail from someone you know. It will have some content that sounds realistic or official and it will tell you to open an attachment. If you open the attachment you will have infected your computer. Unless you are expecting an attachment from someone, don't open it. If you are unsure call or e-mail the person and ask if they sent you something. You could be doing them a favor too because they may not know that they or someone they know are infected with a virus.
Often the return address is spoofed by the virus, so don't be surprised if it didn't come from the person you think it did. It probably came from someone who has both your e-mail address and the return address somewhere on their computer.
Make sure you enable the Windows firewall. This will prevent anyone or any viruses, etc. from gaining access to your computer over your network or via the Internet. It will also limit what information spyware can send out from your system back to the author. To enable it, go to the Security Center from your Control Panels and click on Windows Firewall. Unless you do anything out of the ordinary on your computer you can set it to the "recommended" settings.
Another option is a hardware device. A broadband router lets you share an Internet connection among several computers. This is a great feature, but the device will also provide you with a second unintended benefit. It sits between you computer and the Internet. Even if you have only one computer you should consider adding one of these devices. Anyone or anything that tries to access your computer will be stopped at the router.
SEVEN: PREVIEW PANES
If you use Microsoft outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express or any other e-mail program that offers a "preview pane" (sometimes called "reading pane") option, turn it off. Do it now! The preview pane opens e-mail without you doing anything to make it open. Just as you shouldn't open mail you don't recognize, you shouldn't preview it. HTML e-mail often contains invisible images that load when you open or preview it. This lets the sender know that they found a legitimate address and they can send you more. More importantly, they could embed malicious software in the e-mail that could infect your system when the e-mail is opened.
In some newer versions of Outlook you can turn off HTML rendering. This makes the use of the preview pane safe. But if you are unsure, the best bet is to always turn the preview pane off.
This is the part that I hate to bring up. Sometimes, if you are very heavily infected with spyware or viruses, the best thing you can do is to reformat your hard disk, reinstall windows and start over fresh. I know this is a drastic step, but I've done it on a lot of people's machines and it is often the cure for many kinds of problems.
The key to a successful reinstall is to make sure you back up all of your important data before you start. Burn it to CDs, copy it to an external hard drive or use some other backup method, but make sure it is all backed up. Important things to backup are your My Documents folder, your mp3s, Photos, Favorites, Desktop and any other data you have stored on your computer.
Use your original Windows disk to do a clean install. If you have a name brand computer you may need to use your "Restore CD" or the invisble restore partition on your hard drive. Follow the on screen prompts to set up Windows. After the reinstall is complete, immediately turn on your firewall, and reinstall your anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Make sure both are up to date. Be sure to complete all of the items I've previously mentioned. It doesn't matter if you've done them before. Reinstalling Windows is the equivalent of starting over with a brand new computer. Also, make sure you run Windows Update and download all the critical updates that are available. After this you will need to start reinstalling all of your programs from the original discs and downloading your freeware, such as Instant Messenger. Be careful not to re-download anything that might contain spyware! Your best bet is to only download software from a reputable site like www.download.com. You will also need to put all your data back on your computer from your back up. Trust me, you will feel much better after you complete this step.
It may take a few days to get your computer to a point where it feels normal again. You'll slowly get all of your personal settings back to the way that you like them, and before you know it, you'll forget you ever did it, except your machine will be running much more smoothly.
While every attempt has been made to assure all information in this document is accurate, the author assumes no responsibility or liability for any damage or undesired effects resulting from the use of this information. Configurations are different on every computer and results may vary.
This document is copyright 2005 Michael Gatti. No portions may be reproduced or distributed without the express written consent of Michael Gatti.
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