Spyware, Malware and Viruses

June 26, 2009

Anyone who has surfed the internet knows how annoying it can be when a million pop-up ads appear, when all you really want to do is read the news or check your email.  Not only are those ads annoying, but they can also make your computer slow down to a snail’s pace.  Before you chuck your computer out the window in frustration, there are a few things you can do to easily speed up your computer and reduce those pop-ups.  These tips are fairly easy and can help you get back on the road to productivity.

Spyware and Malware are more than just annoying pop-up ads.  These two words are used to describe any kind of software that is installed on your computer, usually without your knowledge, that track and send data to outside sources about you.  Many times, if you install any “free” software, spyware and malware programs are bundled inside that free software and installed on your computer too.  The software can be used to track your surfing habits and display advertisements that are relevant to what you have been searching for on the internet.  They can also be used for more sinister purposes, like logging your keystrokes, stealing information like passwords and account numbers, and even turning your computer into an email spamming machine.  As more of these programs infest your computer, the slower it will run.  Many of these programs use your internet connection to send their data.  Having a lot of these programs on your computer can slow your internet speed as well.

Your first line of defense in keeping the spyware, malware and viruses off of your computer is to install and update a solid antivirus program.  Updating it means letting it connect to the internet, and downloading the latest definition files that scan your computer for infestations.  McAfee and Norton are the two largest names in the antivirus business.  Those software programs usually require paid subscriptions for the latest updates.  There are a few free antivirus software programs available, including AVG Free and Avast!.  Both programs work very well.

There are also some free programs designed to help remove spyware and malware specifically.  These programs usually do not run all the time, and will not stop the spyware and malware programs from getting installed, but they are effective in removing those nuisance programs once they are on your machine.  These programs include MalwareBytes, AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy.  Using any one of these, or a combination of these programs on a regular basis is a good idea.  Most of the free programs described in this article can be found on this website, www.download.com.

Peer to Peer File Sharing is a popular way to download music, software and movies.  Typically, these downloads are not legal, and by using these types of programs, your computer is opened up to potential attacks by viruses and malware.  Some of the popular programs associated with peer to peer file sharing are Limewire, Gnutella, eDonkey, and BitTorrent.  File sharing is exactly that, sharing files on your computer with anonymous users all over the world.  It is in easy way for hackers and other nefarious computer users to easily obtain your personal information and wreak havoc on your computer system.

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have recently been used to spread viruses and spyware.  Members of these groups will receive an email or message from another member, usually a person that is in the members group of friends, requesting they click on a link for pictures.  A lot of times, this link will automatically install malware and spyware on your computer.  The person who sent the link usually has no idea their account has been compromised until all of their “friends” get infected.  A good rule of thumb is to never click on a link sent by anyone, even your friends, without first knowing what the link is.  Responding to the email and asking your friend about the link first, before you click on it, is a good way to avoid problems.

Updating your operating system is an important part of keeping your computer system secure.  Microsoft Windows and Apple computers both release security updates on a regular basis.  On a Microsoft Windows computer, the easiest way to find out if your computer is up to date is to run Windows Update.  Click on Start—ALL Programs and look for Windows Update or Microsoft Update.  Running either of those programs will access the Microsoft update website.  Follow the instructions on the screen to search for the latest updates.   Sometimes, a yellow shield will appear in the bottom right hand side of your screen.  By clicking on it, you will see updates that are ready to be installed on your computer.  It is a good idea to install those updates.   On a Mac, click the Apple Icon at the top left hand corner of the screen, then click Software Updates.

Computers are the tools for many businesses, and are found in most homes.  The internet has become a huge part of everyday life, and with life, there are risks out there.  By protecting your investment with these simple tips, you can mitigate the risks and keep your computer running smoothly.