Thursday, December 22, 2005

Most Frequently Asked Questions (MFAQ)

One of the most frequently asked questions (MFAQ) I've been getting from clients and friends recently has been about spyware and viruses. More specifically, I am being asked about removing unwanted pests. That is unfortunate but realistic state of computing today. What I would like to see more, is people asking me how to prevent spyware and viruses in the first place, instead of thinking about it after the fact. The same is true for the backups – I only get asked about it when people’s data is corrupted or otherwise lost. But that is completely different issue, one which I will cover in the near future.

OK, obviously the best way to clean up spyware is to not get spyware type applications on your machine in the first place. Clearly, that is not the answer for everyone, but if you are in the position to protect yourself at the beginning, there is absolutely no reason not to do it. For example, my friend (who asked about this very issue today is purchasing a new laptop this week, and will have a chance for a clean and safe start). I know when you get the new machine, all you want to do is check it out and play…but you really need to take an hour and take care of the safety issues first. I’ve set up hundreds of PCs, and I install virus protection, firewall, and anti-spyware tools before any other applications.

As far as the tools to fight spyware, I exclusively use free applications. I am sure there are great commercial releases out there, but I can’t comment on their effectiveness. Unlike firewall and antivirus, not all spyware apps offer real time protection, which means you use them say weekly to clean your PC of unwanted bugs. This is changing slowly, however. The two newer tools that offer the real-protection are Microsoft AntiSpyware (beta) and SpyDefense (beta).

The other great tools that remove spyware, but do not offer real-time protection are: SpyBot Search & Destroy, AdAware SE Personal. There is a simple way to automate these to run automatically by adding them as “Windows Scheduled Tasks”. For example, by adding the following arguments to your SpyBot shortcut, you can get it to run, update, minimize, clean, and exit without any intervention.

“C:\Program Files\Spybot - Search & Destroy\SpybotSD.exe" /taskbarhide /minimized /autoupdate /autocheck /autofix /autoclose /autoimmunize

Finally, a great little application that does a good job at immunizing system is SpywareBlaster. This little gem does not offer spyware cleaning capabilities, but does a great job of immunizing your system against spyware.

Above we discussed some tools that can help prevent spyware as well as others that remove it. In addition, some spyware is so tough that it needs a specially designed script to remove it. Such scripts are available on the web. Most importantly, don’t click on everything that blinks and flashes. I hope this is helpful, and make it harder for those lowlife peddlers of spyware and junkmail.

Next time I will cover AntiVirus products, and after that I’ll also discuss firewalls.

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