In previous TechTrax articles, we've given you some methods to battle spyware and keep your computer safe. In Fighting Spyware Through Your Task Manager, I showed you how you can learn to understand and control what is running on your computer by taking advantage of the Task Manager. And in the System Configuration Utility article, I showed you how you can turn off excess TSR programs. (TSR = terminate and stay resident...applications that hang out eating up your memory...click the TSR link above for more details.)
Additionally, Dennis Roche provided you with information on anti-spyware programs in his two articles: Hey, Who’s Peeping Through My Windows? and Microsoft’s Spyware in Its Infancy.
In this article, I'll update you on Microsoft's spyware software and also show you one of it's cool features that help you control TRS programs that just love to tunnel into your memory once installed.
Things You Must Have on Your Computer
First, let's talk about those things you really must make sure you have on your computer in order to keep it and your identity safe!
If your computer connects to the Internet and you receive email via your computer, you must invest in a decent AntiVirus program. There are lots of them on the market and some very good free versions that you can obtain from the web. In fact, my new laptop came with McAfee, but I personally can't stand that program because it's much too invasive and tries to take over too much control of my computer. So I ripped it off and, instead, put on the paid version of AVG. But AVG also provides a free version that works quite well. You can learn more about this software here: http://free.grisoft.com/doc/1. And when you do get AntiVirus software, make sure you keep up with the updates! If you don't set them for automatic downloading, then be sure you have the software notify you when a new update is ready to be installed...and install it. It'll help keep your system protected against new viruses.
What's a firewall? Well, it's a special type of software that helps protect the ports on your computer to ensure that no one can get into your computer while you're connected to the Internet. It's important for anyone who connects to the Internet, but vital for all of you who have a 24 x 7 connection, such as a cable Internet connection. You can read more complete details in Greg's very popular article, Whassa Firewall, Dude? Thankfully, Microsoft added a default firewall to Windows XP. So if you're running that version (or Vista), you have what you need. Just make sure you have it working properly. To check, go into your Control Panel (Start > Control Panel) and check both the Security and Firewall icons to make sure it is turned on. Click Start > Help and search FIREWALL if you want to learn more about how this works on your computer. If you're running a Windows version earlier than WindowsXP, be sure you get a firewall on your system! Again, you can purchase software that handles this process or check the web for a free version.
If you use the Internet, there are tons of spies (malicious hackers) out there trying to entice you to download their cool, free software. Little do you know that they have attached spyware programs to their installation process. So while you're installing that cool, new screensaver that you just downloaded free...don't get too excited about this wonderful acquisition, because you may also be installing hidden software that is now tracking your keystrokes. The identity thieves who offered that free software are now just waiting for you to type in your bank password or credit card numbers so they can capture that information and use it to ruin your life! How do you protect yourself? Well...don't be so quick to download all those cool freebies that flash their offers all over the Internet. But also, make sure you have a good antispyware program running all the time and fully scanning your system regularly. AVG offers antispyware. And in the rest of this article I'll tell you about the free antispyware I use...Microsoft Windows Defender. Whatever you choose...get one!
- Regular Software Updates
Another thing you should be doing is making sure that your operating system is regularly updated with the latest patches. When problems arise, the manufacturer (Microsoft for those of you running Windows) provides a free update. But note that you should never click and download updates from email notices you may get, because hackers send out bogus emails in an attempt to get you to download fake updates. So be sure to go to the source web site and download directly from there. Within Windows, you can set your updates through your Security icon in your control panel, if you are at least running WinXP. For previous Windows versions, or if you want to make sure you are properly updated, you can go to here: http://update.microsoft.com/microsoftupdate/v6/default.aspx?ln=en-us. Your system will get scanned and you'll be notified of what, if any, updates you need to download and install.
Windows Defender - AntiSpyware
In Dennis' article, Microsoft’s Spyware in Its Infancy, he tells you about the new version of Microsoft's antispyware. It's been a few years now and the resulting software, Windows Defender, it a pretty cool program that seems to do the job. You can download it free from Microsoft at this link: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=435BFCE7-DA2B-4A6A-AFA4-F7F14E605A0D&displaylang=en. (Do you think Microsoft could come up with more complex URLs?<smile> If you need to find the page in the future, just go to Microsoft.com and enter WINDOWS DEFENDER in the search box on the home page to find a link to the home page for Defender.
Once you've downloaded and installed the software, you should immediately make time to run a full scan, or at least a quick one if you don't have time at the moment to let it run. You can continue to work as it runs. However, since it is using your memory, it will cause delays as you work. (People often wonder what's up when they type and it take a couple seconds for the text to appear on their screen. This is because some other program is running resident (TSR) and sucking up memory at the moment. So the program you're running needs to wait until it is allowed to continue...i.e., display your typed words on the screen.)
To run a scan right away, or any time you feel the need, click the Scan dropdown triangle and choose the type of scan you want to run. The program will begin the scan and check your system to let you know if it finds any potentially malicious software on your system.
As you can see in the above image, it provides details on my settings and also shows that my system is running normally. I can rest easy!
If Defender should find something that may be a problem, it will alert you and offer options to remove, quarantine or allow the software in question to run. If you're not familiar with whatever software name it offers, it's time you hit the Internet and do a little detective work to figure out what is trying to run on your system. It may be something you installed that is harmless. Or it may be something you or someone else installed that contains spyware!
You can check the history by clicking the History icon. If you're not sure about an item alert, it may be best to quarantine it until you can figure out what it is. You can later go into the history, choose the item in question and allow it to run or go into the quarantined items and delete the item from your system.
Click the Tools icon to see what other settings you can access.
One of the first things you should do is go into the Options icon and setup automatic scanning. You can set it to work while you sleep. Just make sure you don't turn off your computer at night so the program can work while you sleep. If you prefer to turn off your system at night, then choose a time when you're not on the system and set the scan for that time. If you're working at that time, you can stop the scan and run it manually when you're done by clicking the Scan icon.
The best defense is to run the scans automatically. Let the computer do the work for you because it won't forget to do its job. If you opt for manual scans, there's a good chance you'll get busy and forget!
Set the frequency, time and type of scan you want. If you're a fairly cautious person when it comes to downloading junk from the Internet or opening goofy emails from all your friends, then you may be able to get away with a weekly scan. But if you are always working on the web, or particularly if you have teens that use your system and are downloading games or music, you'll want to set it for daily scans. (Since my systems are on all the time, I just set them to scan in the middle of the night...when I'll hopefully be sleeping!)
Now here's a really cool feature!
First, look down in your SysTray (System Tray), located in the lower, right of your Windows screen. There you'll see most of the TSRs that are currently running on your system. For many of you, there will be a pile of excess programs running that you don't need nor want.
However, even if you right click them and choose Close, every time you restart your computer, they're back! In my articles I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, you can find ways to battle those programs.
But if you have Windows Defender installed, it's even easier. Click the Software Explorer icon, as shown in the image below.
Here's where you can explore, discover and turn off all the excess junk you don't want running and sucking up your memory. Adobe feels it must be running all the time if you have a reader installed. You don't...kill it. And if you ever view a video on the Internet that requires Quick Time, that obnoxious program feels it must always be ready to jump into action, so it puts itself in your SysTray, as does Microsoft's chat program. If you're not using them, you don't need them wasting your memory.
Through this icon you can temporarily disable these blood suckers or remove them from your system startup configuration so they don't keep reappearing with each Windows startup.
Just be sure that you do take the time to investigate programs you're not familiar with so you don't accidentally turn off vital system programs that you need running.
Turning off excess programs that you don't really need will not only save you memory, but make your restart to Windows go a lot faster.