Popups, Adware and Spyware: what they are.

Really, how bad is the situation with spyware right now?

In the fall of 2004, America Online joined forces with the National Cyber Security Alliance, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the security of computer users in the United States, in an effort to determine how well people think they’re protected against the different types of attacks they can suffer while using the Internet. They surveyed 329 people from across the country and then sent PC technicians to their houses to see how closely the system status matched the answers given in the survey. Here are some of the completely terrifying results: · Only 85% of survey respondents were running antivirus software; only 29% were actually up-to-date with the newest virus definitions and program updates.

· 19% (almost 1 in 5) of those systems surveyed were infected with at least one virus.

· 80% of respondents had some type of spyware on their computers.

· According to Symantec, if you connected an unprotected PC to the Internet in 2003, it would be attacked within 15 minutes. By 2004, that figure had dropped to 15 seconds. Source: 2004 America Online/National Cyber Security Alliance.

Here at Computer Mechanix, the majority of our clients have some kind of spyware. In fact, most clients who believe they have a virus on their computer because it is running so slowly actually only have adware and spyware.

Basically, no matter how bad you think the situation is, it’s actually worse than you think.

What is Adware and Spyware?

Adware and Spyware are tiny programs that install themselves automatically onto your computer. Businesses use them to keep track of where you visit and what you buy so they can market to you better. Some adware and spyware is particularly malicious and cause your browser to go to a different home page or, in some cases, actually do damage to your computer. In addition, they can make pop-up advertisements jump on to your screen even when you’re not online. Spyware and adware is constantly evolving so the symptoms will evolve, too.

What are Pop-ups?

If you’ve been online, chances are you’ve seen a pop-up. A pop-up (or pop-up advertisement) occurs when you go to a website and another browser window pops up over the one you’re currently viewing and you didn’t click on a link or other button to make it pop up. Pop-ups are almost as old as the World Wide Web itself and have been a way to squeeze extra advertising into a website.

How do I get this stuff?

Simply surfing the Internet even a small amount will expose your computer to spyware and adware. Getting these programs is practically unavoidable. Surefire ways to get lots of spyware and adware is by installing programs from particularly shady companies or by using P2P (Point-To-Point) File Sharing programs like KaZaa, Morpheus or Gnutella. The easiest way for a nefarious computer programmer to get you to install spyware and adware on your computer is to hide it in a computer program that seems useful. At Computer Mechanix, we’ve seen a number of clients with pop-up ads on their computer that are a result from having installed particular pop-up blockers that started the pop-up advertisements after the trial period for the software was over.

How do I avoid spyware, what should I tell my kids about surfing the Internet?

Basically, if the link looks like it could lead somewhere fun or neat and it doesn’t cost money, don’t click on it. Here are some good rules of thumb to follow while surfing the Internet:

· Never download screensavers or backgrounds from a site where that’s all they offer. · Never play games that are available for free online (particularly Casino-based games). · Very malignant spyware exists primarily in downloadable “free” programs — Many screensaver programs, weather programs, and search bars contain spyware and adware. · Never, EVER click on popups that advertise software to rid yourself of spyware, adware or even stop more popups. These popups are created by the very spyware you have on your computer to try and scam you into buying the software made by the companies that gave you the spyware in the first place!

Unfortunately, there are no tried and true methods of avoiding spyware altogether. It is rapidly becoming an unfortunate fact of life for those of us who use the Internet (in other words, everyone’s a target). The important issue at hand is that the spyware is removed after it’s installed on your computer.

How can I get rid of all of this?

There are a number of popup blockers and spyware/adware removal programs on the market. Some are good. Some are not. Venturing into this territory without a professional can result in further damage to your computer instead of fixing the problem. At Computer Mechanix, we are professionals in knowing what programs work and what don’t and can clean your computer efficiently and effectively. In addition, we can teach you how to use the programs. Simply call us at 828-281-4379 or make an appointment online today.

By Eric Jacobson

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