educational

PC 911

Jerold Citron
Anyone in the online adult community who explores the industry by browsing the Internet undoubtedly will encounter worms, spyware and adware. These are types of software that are cleverly placed on a website or in your email so computers will unknowingly install them. Once they are resident on a PC, they can track user preferences, delete system files, re-configure a browser and even send email using a person’s computer as a spam node.

Worms, spyware and adware are all in the same class of software programs that are designed to install themselves on a computer without a user’s consent. They also are designed to be very hard to uninstall. The major distinction with this type of software is that spyware and adware are sometimes legal and not always malicious, whereas worms are usually malicious and illegal.

The fact that spyware may not be illegal does not help users who wish to rid themselves of this software that ultimately slows down a computer system. Adware, a subset of spyware, installs itself on a machine without a user’s knowledge and then facilitates annoying browser pop-up ads. For instance, the state of Texas recently filed suit against Sony Corp. for creating software that would secretly install on machines as customers played BMG music CDs. This software was not malicious, but it was intrusive.

As just mentioned, even the most innocuous spyware or adware offerings are obnoxious in the sense that they will slow down a user’s computer and take up Internet bandwidth and space within the Windows registry. Many users all over the world have perfectly functioning anti-virus software installed but still are experiencing PC slowdowns due to spyware and adware invasions.

Another incident involving spyware/adware intrusions took place at a Kinko’s store in New York when an individual was logging everything users typed, including their passwords to financial institutions. The man had covertly installed spyware that logged keystrokes. In this case, more than 400 user names and passwords were captured and used to access accounts illegally. This software wasn’t at all malicious in that it did not damage any equipment, but it was used by a malicious individual.

This fuzzy area of computer science law means that traditional virus companies can’t always filter out spyware, since spyware is not always malicious. Spyware also traditionally installs itself on a Windows-based PC as either software or an additional plugin to Internet Explorer. Therefore, traditional virus software cannot always assume adware and spyware is not desired software. For instance, a user might actually grow to like a piece adware that steers him or her to preferred websites.

In that light, a whole new set of computer software has evolved to detect adware and spyware and help remove it from your computer. If you are looking for software to clean your computer of these insidious programs, the software you choose should be able to detect and remove existing spyware while at the same time remain resident in memory to guard you from new nefarious installations as you surf the web or open email attachments.

One of the best free adware and spyware removers is Spyware BeGone. You can download this software at www.spywarebegone.com. When I ran this tool against my PC, it found adware with names such as Spy Axe, ClickSpring and Alexa. It also found software called Cydoor, which it classified as a “Browser Helper Object” and not traditional adware. This let me know that the Cydoor software had secretly installed itself on my Internet Explorer browser as a plugin.

Spyware Begone has the added feature of a boot-time scan for Windows. This type of scan has become important in today’s hostile computing environment because unwanted software can install itself in the Windows registry and actually modify the names of its own executables at boot time.

Another great free spyware/adware blocker is the Bazooka Adware and Spyware Scanner. This software will track not only spyware and adware but also software worms and dangerous key-logging software that tracks keystrokes and can enable remote users to steal your passwords and credit card information. You can download Bazooka at www.kephyr.com.

Another important feature to cut down the rate at which unwanted marketing websites track your activity is to scan and/or simply clean your Windows cookies. Windows cookies are simply small files full of tracking information that different websites use to record patterns in your behavior. Luckily, Spyware Begone has a cookie scanner that will remove cookies associated with spyware.

A more thorough way of doing this is to periodically use the Microsoft Disk Cleanup to purge your computer of all unwanted Internet cookies.

Worms
Worms usually are a more dangerous form of cyber life than spyware or adware simply because their goal is to duplicate. A worm will duplicate itself by moving quickly from one computer to another. A worm is simply using your computer as a node to multiply throughout the Internet, as would any life form.

The most famous worm to hit America was in 1998. The worm originated on VAX and Sun servers running Unix in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Within hours, using send mail and the finger service, this worm — released by a 23-year-old student — crippled the Internet. The day the “Morris Worm” hit the Internet has become known as “Black Thursday” within the circles that experienced the exponential duplication of the worm and seeing their servers crippled so quickly.

Most worms today are Windows-based and usually will use one of the Microsoft mail services such as Outlook Express to spread themselves across the world. What separates a worm from a virus is that a virus attaches itself to another program, whereas a worm is a self-contained executable that will hide on your machine.

The best free software to combat worms probably is the Avast Home Edition. You can download this software at www.avast.com. Avast has all the features of a professional virus and worm remover and provides free updates. Another free offering to combat worms is DiamondCS WormGuard, available at www.wormguard.diamondcs.com.au.

Today, many potential customers have become afraid to surf adult websites simply because of the proliferation of worms, spyware and adware; therefore, to increase revenue and popularity, the online adult community needs to work with websites that employ these methods and educate customers on simple ways of combating this modern-day scourge.

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