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Mark Swarbrick, Online Computer Repair and Online Virus Removal  Specialist

"After 20 + years in the corporate computer world I left my cubicle to work from home. Low overhead means I can work CHEAP and SAVE YOU MONEY!"


Novell Certified Network Engineer

MICROSOFT EDUCATION CERTIFICATE: Internet working with Microsoft TCP/IP on Windows NT

Previous Employers:

IBM Global Services
Wells Fargo Bank
American Express
AZ Dept. of Env. Quality
U.S. Dept. of Commerce
AZ Attorney General's Office
Bank One
Cigna Healthcare

What is spyware?

Spyware is similar to a virus but instead of attempting to do damage, spyware hides in your system and attempts to collect private information about you. Spyware will record what web sites you visit and your email address. The spyware transmits this information over the Internet to companies that collect this information from thousands of computers. They incorporate it into mailing lists that they sell to companies that have things to sell. Here's how it works: If you use an infected machine to visit websites that sell, for example, digital cameras, then it won't be long before you are getting spam mail and pop-ups that tell you the best place to buy your next digital camera. Really bad spyware may collect other information such as credit card numbers. Some spyware-type programs will also "hijack" your browser and take it to places you didn't intend to go.

• Is spyware a serious threat to my computer?

ABSOLUTELY!!! In fact, spyware is THE most serious threat to computer systems, even more than viruses. A system being rendered useless because of a virus is actually a rare occurrence compared to the number of computers disabled by spyware. Almost ALL personal computers have some level of spyware infection.

• How can spyware hurt my computer?

The problem with spyware is that everyone is doing it! Consequently computers often get infected with HUNDREDS or even THOUSANDS of instances of these programs. Each one of these is monitoring your actions and transmitting data over the Internet. When you get many of these programs running in the background at the same time, your computer will slow down to a crawl. It is not uncommon for computers to be totally unusable because of numerous spyware infections.

• How can spyware hurt me?

A virus can ruin your computer, but spyware can ruin your life! Have you ever used your credit card online? Is your social security number in your computer? Identity theft is a serious problem. And of course it hurts your pocket book when you have to pay to have your crashed computer restored to working order.

• How do I get infected with spyware?

Simply by visiting web sites. It comes in through Internet Explorer. An unprotected computer will begin to get infected in a matter of minutes of browsing the web. The infection is usually not noticed until the number of spywares gradually increases. Some websites are worse than others. The sites that children and teenagers visit are particularly bad. Porn sites are the worst and are likely to contain the most dangerous of spywares. Free programs that you can download such as games, screen savers, and smiley-faces very often have spyware packaged with them. When you click on the "I agree" you are agreeing to allow these spyware programs to install on your computer. Its in the fine print that no one reads.

• Why isn’t spyware illegal?

Spyware that you unknowingly agree to accept when installing a free program, will probably always be legal. There is talk of outlawing browser invading spyware in the USA, but even if that happens there is no control over other countries, and the Internet is world-wide. Even if spyware was outlawed that would not stop the threat. For example, viruses are illegal yet they are still pervasive. The Internet is the Wild West. Best to strap on a six-gun in the form of a good anti-spyware program so the bad guys can't get you.

• I have an anti-virus program. Won't that protect me?

No. Anti-virus programs look for viruses, not spyware. You need an anti-spyware program.

• I downloaded an anti-spyware program from the Internet. It was only $30.00. Won't that protect me?

Currently there are 762 anti-spyware programs for sale. Most of them are not adequate. Many of them are actually spyware themselves. Some spywares will infect your machine with a notice that says: "This Machine Is Infected With Spyware." Then they will offer to sell you an anti-spyware program that does nothing more than remove the notice that they put there in the first place! Even if you have one of the reputable programs, just one spyware scanner is not enough. It takes about 4 scans from the leading anti-spyware programs to find all the spywares.

• Can I remove spyware myself?

That depends. Simply running a good anti-spyware program will help but that alone is usually not sufficient to completely clean a machine. The makers of spyware know that sooner or later someone is going to try to remove their spyware. So they design the spyware with this in mind. They do everything they can to prevent its removal. A bad spyware will install itself in many different places deep inside the operating system. It will monitor itself and migrate and replicate to more locations if it senses itself being deleted in some locations. It will run processes that cannot be easily killed and lock files with an active process so that the spyware files cannot be deleted. It will bury itself in multiple places inside the system registry. Some spywares are designed to harm your operating system if they are removed. Very often networking and Internet access will be completely broken after removing one of these spywares. Effectively removing spyware requires the right set of tools and skills. One should be familiar with such things as editing the system registry, starting Windows in safe mode, killing running processes and navigating the directory tree with Windows Explorer and deleting files. Spyware scanners will not be able to delete all spywares they detect. One must be able to follow on-screen directions and manually kill processes, delete files and edit the system registry, edit the hosts file, set file attributes for read only and install operating system service packs.

• What is the best way to protect myself against spyware?

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