Viruses, spyware, worms, trojans, adware… yikes! (1) Start taking steps to protect your private information...

There is no point in repeating definitions of viruses and other malware here. I’ve taken a paragraph from that explains about what nastiness can infect your computer. And I would definitely recommend that you take the time to read what Microsoft has to say on the subject.

A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself[1] and infect a computer. The term “virus” is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability. A true virus can spread from one computer to another (in some form of executable code) when its host is taken to the target computer; for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable medium such as a CD, DVD, or USB drive. Read more…Or read up on it on a reliable website such as Microsoft, it’s worth your time.

Knowing something about the subject can save you a lot of grief in the long run.

Why do I bring this up now?

Because here I am yet again cleaning up a friend’s computer that had 5 or 6 Trojans on it. I’ve been preaching to my friends and clients that they need to spend a few dollars to get themselves a good, reliable, up-to-date anti-virus software. With rare exceptions the free software that is out there is generally reactive and not preventative, which today is not enough to have peace of mind. A good anti-virus software includes defenses against whatever is out there, is frequently updated, and—an important consideration—is ‘light-weight’, meaning that it’s not slowing down your computer. Viruses and other malware can get onto your computer by just surfing the web. Know that you are spending a LOT LESS for prevention than what you will for having your computer serviced and cleaned up after an infection.

A word about free software. One I would recommend is Microsoft’s own security software. According to some of my peers it works well, as long as you set it up to check for updated definitions before scanning. It doesn’t update reliably otherwise. The free security suites that are offered through Telus and Shaw or other ISPs to their clients do work, but are resource hogs and slow down your computer’s performance considerably.

How can a website infect your computer?

Strangely, as I was writing this, I misspelled (the real one only has one k) as I was checking the correct link. I knew immediately that I made a mistake. A fake popup dialog announced that I’d won a prize. Fake, because there was no way to close this dialog, (it was actually a linked image of a dialog). I should have closed the browser right then, but I was curious what would happen next. Another popup dialog asked me to click on the prize I wanted, one of the 3 selections was an iPad2. I didn’t select anything because I suspected that if I did I might initiate the download of some malware that could infect my computer. What this website seemed to be doing is

  1. cash in on the misspelling of the famous website (that is a wide-spread practice)
  2. try to hide the fact that it’s not a real website at all, there seemed to be no purpose to it (other than getting you to click on ads)
  3. offer unrealistic prizes that tempt people to click (who doesn’t want a free iPad?)
  4. display some form or content that would demand more information from the ‘lucky winner’ (get you to click more, get more of your information)
  5. possibly download some malware or adware to your computer and you wouldn’t notice (unless it would be caught by a good anti-virus software)

Suspecting all this, I closed the tab this website was in, cleared all temporary internet files out, including cookies, and did a quick scan with my anti-virus software.

‘I didn’t know’ doesn’t cut it any more!

So, are you someone who keeps on surfing even though the computer acts funny and you suspect you probably have some nasty malware on it? Is it OK with you that an infection can record your key strokes, read your documents, find your passwords (you don’t have those in a Word document called ‘passwords.doc’, right?), find your banking information in an unprotected Quicken or Money file, harvests your contacts and sends them spam and/or viruses in your name, compile enough information from your computer to steal your identity…? In other words, would you keep driving even if you saw a spike belt that’ll stop you dead?