Tag Archives: spyware

New Christmas computer, part 2: anti-virus

You are savoring your new PC and visiting your usual haunts: Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, and more.

But if this new PC does not have anti-virus, a firewall, and other precautions, the glitter will soon be gone, and you’ll soon wonder why the problems you’re having in 2013 are related to that new PC.

New machines are a good time to develop new habits. Sure, there’s a little trouble now, but you’ll save hours of grief later.  Think of this as the moments required to fasten the seat belt in your car and perhaps a bit of discomfort – but compare that to the pain and expense of injuries incurred in even a minor crash if you weren’t wearing it. Minor decisions now can have major consequences later.

Habit #2: Install and configure anti-virus

While many new computers come with anti-virus software, often it’s a limited “trial” version from one of the popular brands such as Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro. If you don’t mind shelling out $40 or more for a year (or more) of anti-virus protection, go ahead and do so now before you forget. Granted, most of these trial versions are aggressively “in your face” about converting your trial version into a full purchased version.  Caution: if you get into the habit of dismissing the “your trial version is about to run out!” messages, you run the risk of turning a blind eye when your trial anti-virus is no longer protecting you.  Better do it now!

If your computer did not come with anti-virus software, I suggest you make that the first order of business. There are many reputable brands of anti-virus available today, available online or from computer and electronics stores. For basic virus (and Trojan, worms, key loggers, etc.), all of the main brands of anti-virus are very similar.

My personal preference for anti-virus programs (in order) are:

  1. Kaspersky
  2. Sophos
  3. AVG
  4. Norton
  5. McAfee
  6. Panda
  7. Trend Micro

Note: if selecting, installing, and configuring anti-virus seems to be beyond your ability, consult with the store where you purchased your computer, or contact a trusted advisor who is knowledgable on the topic.

Key configuration points when using anti-virus:

  • “Real time” scanning – the anti-virus program examines activity on your computer continuously and blocks any malware that attempts to install itself.
  • Signature updates – the anti-virus program should check at least once each day for new updates, to block the latest viruses from infecting your computer.
  • Periodic whole disk scans – it is a good idea to scan your hard drive at least once a week. If you keep your computer on all the time, schedule the scan to take place when you are not using the computer, as a scan can slow down your computer.
  • Safe Internet usage – many anti-virus programs contain a feature that will try to warn you or steer you away from sites that are known to be harmful.

Many anti-virus programs also come with a firewall and other tools. Some of these may be useful as well – consult your computer retailer or a trusted advisor to see what’s right for you.

Part 1: password security

Part 3: data backup

Sears/Kmart loading spyware on computers?

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Update: Sears admits to installing spyware, claims it is disclosed in its 54 page privacy statement

A report published yesterday by Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, indicates that the retail giant is violating Federal Trade Commission policies in its distribution of ComScore, an application that tracks Web browsing activity. If the allegation is true, this could erupt into another privacy scandal, such as Sony’s loading rootkits on music CDs (story).

Is this another case of technologists doing what they want and not following company policy or the law? Too often, technologists design and build systems to their own specifications without having informed outsiders review those specifications. This could also be a case of poor product data management, if a low-level person sneaked the spyware into the final system image without getting anyone’s approval.

Or was this a brazen and deliberate violation of the law? Time will tell.

News story here.

Get the spyware out and keep it out

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Spyware is used to snoop on your PC and Internet usage – most people find it offensive and a violation of their privacy. Spyware comes in many forms including:

  • Cookies – tracking your movement on the Internet
  • Browser helper objects – watching and (sometimes) intercepting your website usage
  • Adware – sometimes the source of those annoying popups
  • Key loggers – recording every keystroke and sending it to the spyware’s owner

Install one or more of the following anti-spyware programs. Scan your computer now, then scan monthly after that.

Spybot: www.safer-networking.org
Spyware Blaster: www.javacoolsoftware.com
Microsoft Defender: www.microsoft.com

Policeware: the spyware that aids law enforcement

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Policeware is the new term to describe spyware that is used by law enforcement to gather evidence in law enforcement investigations.

It is highly likely that anti-virus and anti-spyware software will look the other way if they detect policeware. Or, more likely, they won’t carry signatures for policeware at all.

So will it be possible to detect policeware? Possibly. I think that policeware will be the backdrop for the next cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and the underworld.

Hackers are anxious to get a copy of CIPAV, the investigative tool (that gets installed on a suspect’s PC) used by the FBI to log outbound TCP/IP connections. Certainly they will device tools to detect and block CIPAV and other such tools. In fact, this may be history as I write this – the capability to detect and remove CIPAV may already exist. And given that Magic Lantern and Carnivore have been around for several years, I can’t help but wonder if tools exist to detect its activities.