Spyware, Adware, and Browser Hijacking

Most everyone has heard of Spyware or Adware, and therefore knows how irritating these little pests can be.  Recently, browser hijacks are more and more prevalent which are becoming an even bigger nuisance to hit your computer.

What do these terms mean?

Spyware and Adware:  Adware  is Internet jargon for Advertising Supported software (also called Spyware). It began as a way for shareware authors to make money from their product rather than selling it to users.  In other words, when you download most free programs (including screensavers, artwork, utilities, music, games - too many to list) from the Internet it will most likely contain a "companion program" included which is "spyware", or "adware".  Adware comes in many forms, but mostly designed to increase Pop-Up ads while you use your computer.  Unfortunately, this concept has become a reckless nuisance and is causing a lot of damage to computers around the globe. Read the legal disclaimer before you download ANY free software.  It usually will disclose the "companion program" in the user agreement often describing it as a "benefit" to the user.  Although, keep in mind it is not always disclosed in the user agreement.

Why is it called "Spyware"?  Because it follows and tracks your surfing habits. While some may consider adware to be a great concept, the downside is that the advertising companies also install additional tracking software on your system which continuously sends your surfing information to the advertiser. According to the privacy policies of the companies, there will be no sensitive or identifying data collected from your system and you shall remain anonymous - but some are very malicious in nature and DO violate privacy policies.  You in effect have a "live" server sitting on your PC that is sending information about you and your surfing habits to a remote location.  Some of this information is harmless, but some can be very destructive - it has the potential to be extremely threatening to your precious and private personal information (credit cards, passwords, keyloggers, etc)

Browser hijacking, the latest threat.  There is a despicable trend that is becoming more and more common where the browser settings are forcibly hijacked by malicious web sites and software that modifies your default start and search pages. Sometimes Internet shortcuts will be added to your favorites folder without asking you. The purpose is to force you to visit a web site of the hijacker's choice so that they can artificially inflate their web site's traffic for higher advertising revenues. In some cases, these changes are reversible simply by going into Internet options and switching them back. Not always, however. We have found a combination of registry settings and hidden files clandestinely placed on your hard drive that redo your settings every time you reboot the computer.  No matter how often you change your settings back, they are changed again the next time you restart. There have even been cases where Internet options have been removed from the tools menu by registry hacking to prevent you from controlling your own computer! This can be very difficult to remedy - to undo these changes, it may be necessary to edit the windows registry and delete strategically placed hidden files on your computer.

Where do you get Spyware?  In our experience and research, we've found that most spyware/adware is coming from free music sharing services like Kaazaa, Bearshare Morpheous, Ezula, Limewire, and many other similar services.  Free gaming sites featuring card/poker games, board games, puzzles also require their adware programs to be installed on your computer.  Many free software utilities include it too.  The bottom like is, it can come from anywhere when free software or services are offered. Remember, nothing is free in life.  These programs are NOT FREE - they generate revenue by installing adware/spyware on your computer and are paid every time you click on the pop up ads generated by these programs.  It's important to understand, the adware/ spyware will run continuously on your computer even though you may not be using the free software - in fact even if you remove the free software from your computer completely, the spyware/adware will linger and continue to run.

UPDATE:  Lately a number of customers insist they have not installed any free software from the Internet, yet they have become infested with adware/spyware.  Unfortunately we don't have all the answers on this yet, but we are aware of a new threat called "drive-by-downloads".  Drive by downloads are done without your consent.  You could be surfing innocently through Google or Yahoo (etc) - click on a link and WHAM!  Everything starts to go haywire.  There is a lot of Browser Hijacking using this method. Accessory Computer is aggressively looking into preventative methods to help protect our customers and will discuss ideas as we become aware of them.

How do these programs affect my computer?  Has your computer been running SLOW??  Most users have no idea why their computer is running so slow and why it takes so long for Windows to launch.  Here's why.  Let's compare your computer to an automobile.  Your car has an engine for power; the computer has a CPU to get its power.   Turn on your Air Conditioning while driving up a hill on a hot day - your engine drops in performance - it takes away precious horsepower or "resources".  Similar circumstances on your computer.  The more software you have running on your computer, the slower the CPU will perform. You can turn off the air conditioning in your car, but spyware programs run continuously and cannot be turned off. "System resources" are very important, and we are seeing an alarming number of computers with less than 40 percent system resources (some as low as 10 percent!) due to unnecessary programs directly loaded at startup and continuing to run in the background.  Most of these programs are "spyware".  We are finding in excess of 30-40 spyware programs on many computers! This will cripple your computer, cause system crashes, and overall instability.

How do I stop this from happening??  Already discussed, be very careful when dealing with free software.  But of course this won't help when dealing with drive-by downloads.  The best advice we can offer at this time is to make sure you have all security updates to your browser.  Internet Explorer is the main target in this threat, so update often.  Some of our customers have decided to abandon Internet Explorer all together - they've switched to Netscape, Mozilla, or Opera browsers instead.  Choosing a different browser may indeed help or mask most of these threats, but there are other problems associated with a non-mainstream browser which would be too long to list in this article.  Just keep your guard up and be careful which sites you click on.  We are currently recommending Service Pack 2 for Windows XP users.  There are some bugs in this service pack, but it was specifically designed for security - so it may be your best defense.  Firewalls are effective to a point - but they can be very difficult to learn how to use for the average user.  If you don't know how to use a firewall, it can actually cause more harm than good - so in our opinion, you must learn how to use a firewall or shouldn't install it.  Programs claiming to remove Adware/Spyware can be effective to a point.  But we've found that no single program will fight the range of spyware floating around.  It's a moving target and not one company has mastered the fight yet.

You've got Spyware - how can we help you get rid of it??  There are two options for repair, and they are based on your situation and budget. 

1)       Per Hour: We have extensive experience and knowledge removing Spyware/Adware/Browser-Hyjacks. We'll purge the system of offending malware.  But, depending on how much or how little you have will dictate whether it's cost effective or even possible.  Some of the most recent infestations can be very difficult and even impossible to remove.  In other words, sometimes we can purge the computer in less than 1 hour, other times it takes several hours.  Keep in mind if you have a new variant malware, we may not be able to remove it completely.  We'll discuss this more in detail during your computer evaluation.

2)       Fresh install of the Windows Operating System. We offer a very affordable flat rate of $49 to start fresh with a new installation of windows.  If necessary we can backup your personal data as an option.  Most of our clients opt for this method since it's most cost effective and is an absolute remedy.  Not only will it rid you of this offending software, it will also take care of other problems with your computer.

 For further information, contact Accessory Computer at 612-866-6623



Return To Home Page