Thursday, January 16, 2003

Spyware

One of the things I do for a lot of my customers is to take their current computer desktop systems (usually called 'obsolete' by the vendors pushing 2Ghz machines for the business office) and give them a 'tune-up'. Usually by 'cleaning-up' the operating system be removing all no longer needed programs and optimizing the settings of the software in use.

Let's be honest. For most SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) and medium sized business users, a 500Mhz computer is more than enough to run any word processor, spreadsheet program, e-mail client, web browser, accounting package, etc. They don't need a 2Ghz+ system with a 64MB 3D Video card that can get 200+ frames per second in Quake 3 or other graphically intensive games. Sure, those of you who do photo or video editing, heavy duty CAD, or mathematically heavy computational programs (<-That phrase probably breaks several rules of English grammar) can always use more memory and CPU horsepower. Most business computers rarely use anywhere near their total capacity. In fact, the amount of empty hard drive space out there in the business world is probably pretty staggering, but that's another discussion.

So I take these 500Mhz machines and remove the 50+ viruses I find, usually of the Klez variety. No exaggeration either, that's probably the average number I find. I had one client who had over 1,400 viruses on his system, no wonder it wouldn't boot anymore. After I clean the viruses off, the second thing I do is remove the Spyware.

What is spyware? Chances are everyone of you reading this article probably have 1 or more spyware programs on your system. Some are hiding, and some are quite obnoxious and are looking at you right now with their beady little eyes from your systray (That's the group of tiny little icons directly next to where the time is displayed in the lower right hand corner of your Windows desktop). One of the most obnoxious of these is Gator. Like those annoying pop-up ads that appear at every web page? If you do, then install Gator right now. It puts EXTRA ones into your surfing experience. Like other companies to know all of your internet use habits, or even use your computer's idle CPU time while you're not using it all without your permission? Then install Kazaa media desktop. Of course, you DID agree to install all this stuff in the "Terms of Agreement" that you click through without reading. 'B3D Projector' is one of the worst and most insidious pieces of software that installs with Kazaa.

I usually find 40-50 pieces of spyware on each system. Some are so agressive that they cause the machine to crash every time the system is turned on, because they rush to send their payloads of information off to their corporate masters, who have Socially Engineered you to install it on your system.

Removing viruses, spyware, and defragmenting the hard drive (in safe mode for those of you who still use Windows 95, 98, or Me) usually increases system performance dramatically.

How do you get rid of all this malware? I prefer Command Antivirus to kill Viruses, and Ad-Aware for removing Spyware (be sure to get the Refudpate before you run Ad-Aware). With Ad-aware, do a registry scan, deep registry scan, and scan all of your hard-drives (CD's and floppies probably don't need to be scanned)

Stop your system from doing things you don't want it to do, and get rid of spyware now. Use Kazaa-lite instead of Kazaa. Try to at least skim through the software terms of agreement before you install anything, and don't forget your aluminum foil helmet to keep the government mind-control rays out. (Italicized portion is only meant as a JOKE and is not meant to comment on the sanity of the author of this article. No government agents need to visit my home to verify. I am totally sane. Yes, I am.)