Spyware and other such scams & scum

Having recently helped Dad get rid of some nasty software from his PC, I thought I’d jot down a few notes in the hope they may help others dealing with similar computer issues.

Along with all of the wonders of the modern day Internet, come the shysters and scammers trying to make money at the expense of the unsuspecting Internet user. The most common way they do this, is by malicious software (malware) which they try and slip onto your computer or trick you into installing.

There are several different types of malware, which are written to do different things:

  • Adware is like that person with the sandwich board on the street corner, waving and shouting and trying to draw your attention to whatever they’re selling:Adware bombards you with adverts, in your web browser, on your desktop, popping up all the time, and being a real pain. It often ‘hijacks’ your web browser, opening websites you definitely didn’t want to open!
  • Spyware is like that person in the movies, sneaking into the corporate office to take photos of all the documents, then sneaking out again, with noone knowing the documents have been copied. Spyware sits on your computer recording the sites you go to, tries to capture your credit card, banking details, or any other sensitive information it can.
  • Trojans, named after the myth of the Greeks who left a wooden horse as tribute for their enemies, hid inside it, then snuck out and attacked after the horse was dragged inside the city by the Trojans. This software installs a “back door” on your computer, and allows a nasty person to do access everything on it, send emails as if they were from you, download unsavoury or illegal material through your computer, etc.
  • Computer Viruses, like biological viruses, are software programs which spread by themselves, usually via email or hidden in downloaded software. When a virus is on your computer, it will try and connect to or spread to as many other computers as possible.
  • Hybrids – combining two or or more of the above, these are the nastiest. Eg a virus which installs a trojan on your computer, allowing a nasty person to infect it with Spyware and/or Adware.

For each type of malware, there are different software programs for dealing with them. I’m going to list the ones I use, but if you have a better one, feel free to mention it!

  • Adware – I use the free version of Ad-Aware, by Lava Soft. I tend to run a scan once a month, or any time I think Adware may have slipped through onto my computer. I always make sure I update the definitions (how it recognises Adware) before I run a scan.
  • Spyware – I use Spybot Search and Destroy, by Safer Networking. As with Ad-Aware, I run it once a month, or if I think something’s infected my computer. It also has a very useful function called “immunise”. This is where it looks in the locations different Spyware installs itself, and puts in dummy entries to stop the Spyware from infecting your computer!
  • Trojans – Most Trojans will be caught by either the anti-spyware software, or anti-virus software.
  • Viruses – There are many free and commercial anti-virus software programs for home use. I currently use AVG which has multiple layers of protection, including scanning your computer for viruses, scanning email for viruses and checking web pages for hidden malware. Most antivirus software will auto update each day, and run regular scans of your computer for viruses.

To disinfect a malware infected computer, you’ll probably want to install all of the above, and to ensure they’re up to date with the latest definitions of the malware.

Running each in turn should find most of the malware, and they’re usually pretty good at removing most of it. Some is very sneaky though, you may need to reboot your computer, and then re-run the scans a second time. Some can be so difficult to remove, that the software can’t do it automatically. For these, I usually Google for the name of the infection, and see if there’s a special tool, just for removing it, eg Hijack This or CWShredder.  They’re good for removing a specific infection, but I only use them if the main scanners aren’t successful.

Good luck!

If all else fails, you may have to completely reinstall the software on your computer. You do have a backup, right?


5 comments to Spyware and other such scams & scum

  • Lordmortis

    Don’t forget ClamAV!

  • Jamie

    Once I suspect a machine has been infected I wipe the system drive and do a fresh install. I don’t trust that the malware can be removed. I do the install on an isolated network segment, patch to current, install AVG, then reenable and scan the data drives. My box is for games and I don’t use it for much else, but my wife’s machine is another story. She’s much better about being careful these days.

    • I’m willing to try a removal first, based on the amount of effort to reinstall the OS & applications.

      It usually works out well – I head over to my folk’s place, update the scanners, start them running, have dinner, come back and check them, do a clean, reboot, start the scanners again, have dessert, check them again, take any final actions, then head off.

  • […] Internet Use By P.R. Kaye, on December 13th, 2010 Following my blog entry on spyware and other scams, I’ve had a few questions from people about how to stop spyware or malware being installed on […]

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