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Free Spyware/Adware advice

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I maintain over 300 computers on 6 networks for my day job. Nights and weekends, I run my own small business repairing computers and installing home networks. 95% of my small business customers come to me for adware/spyware issues. I've been fighting adware/spyware since 1998 -- before most people had heard the terms. Not trying to blow my own horn, or pat myself on the back, just trying to establish some credibility on this issue!


Here are a couple of facts:


1. Computers are sold with a LOT of spyware preinstalled. Dell, HP, Gateway, they all accept money from third parties in exchange for installing those third party aps on the systems they sell. Now, these aps aren't necessarily the most evil examples of spyware, but they do open the doors to more serious infections. Even Internet Explorer has some built-in spyware, commonly referred to as "Alexa."


2. Spyware got its start when dot coms were trying to figure out how to make money on the World Wide Web. Many otherwise respectable companies were responsible for the genesis of spyware. RealPlayer, KaZaa, AOL, just to name a few. Let's say there was a screensaver company that wanted to make its fortune on the internet. They soon leanred that few people are willing to pay for even the coolest screensavers -- they were going to have to give them away from free. So they tried just putting ads on their web pages. When people weren't clicking the ads often enough, they had to come up with other ways to make a buck. Spam was just getting going at this time, too (remember when ANY email you got was cool, because you got so few? :D ) And there were a lot fewer real email addresses out there, so brute force dictionary-style attacks were less effective back then. Spammers needed REAL email addresses to send advertisements to. So, some spammer writes a program to report a computer user's email address back to the mothership, and approaches the screensaver company we talked about earlier. "Psst... Hey buddy! If you insert my code into your screensaver installer, I'll give you a dime for every download that occurs!" And thus was born spyware as we know it.


3. Now, people hate spyware for at least 2 main reasons: invasion of privacy and loss of computer performance. Most people don't care much about the privacy aspect until they get busted for kiddie Pr0n or get their identity theived. We all want the highest possible performance out of our PCs, though! It used to be spyware didn't hurt that bad -- how much drag can a couple of extra processes put on a powerful PC, after all? But, as the popularity of spyware increased, and as broadband connections and people's exposure to the internet increased, spyware got to be a real problem I've cleaned systems with over *900* seperate spyware processes running! People's computers are too busy running spyware and serving up popups to run the software people actually *want* to run!


So, what do you do about it? Depends:


1. For new computers, first go through and uninstall all the crap that comes preinstalled that you know you'll never use. 'MusicMatch Jukebox"?!?! WTF?!?!? Who actually uses that?!?!? And it's cram packed with spyware!!! AOL, Real, etc... Unless you REALLY need it, get rid of it. Even the stuff that doesn't contain spyware *WILL* launch itself at system startup, and consume valuable processor and memory resources. Then, install "Indy's Secret Sauce." This is a combination of tools that I have found to be extremely effective at stopping and removing spyware (no one yet has come out with a single tool that can do it all on its own). Here's the list (all of them are available for download at www.download.com):


I. Adaware. This is the grand daddy of them all, and still does a great job of *REMOVING* spyware. Update it weekly and run a system scan. Let it remove what it finds.

II. Spyware Blaster. This is an excellent spyware *PREVENTER*. Update it weekly, then click "enable all protection."

III. Spybot Search and Destroy does a pretty good job of both prevention and removal. Update weekly, *IMMUNIZE*, and scan.

IV. Microsoft's spyware tool is pretty good too. It protects a couple of infection vectors that the others ignore. It updates itself and runs scheduled scans.


If you use the free versions of the first three products, you'll have to update and scan manually. For a small fee, you'll get some automation with the professional versions.


2. A "lightly" infested computer can sometimes be salvaged using the above utilities. You may have to haul out one more BIG GUN, called "Hijack this." This is a powerful, but DANGEROUS tool! It lays bare your registry, and you can really frag up your PC if you delete the wrong registry keys. Careful!


3. Once a computer has been really compromised by spyware, there's really only one solution. Backup, FDISK, format, reinstall Windows. Then slather on Indy's secret sauce, and protect yourself *from the start*.


Hope this is helpful to someone out there!



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Another big help - MSConfig (built in to most Windows systems. Just use Start >> Run >> Type "MSConfig" >> Press OK). The Statup tab will show you all the startup processes you have running on your PC and you can choose to disable them from starting up. I like having items like RealPlayer on my PC but hate the messages it likes to pop up. Solution - Just diable it's startup processes. That way it won't be able to do anything until I choose to load it.


Might I also suggest WinPatrol as another good preventative measure. Also handy with spotting pesky services you don't want running.

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Another big help - MSConfig



Leesy, here's one that's better than MSConfig for doing that sort of thing. It's called "Startup Control Panel," and it's only 34k! Download the standalone version here.


And, if you really want to get your system cleaned up (not of spyware, but of unnecessary system processes) read this site: www.blackviper.com.



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