Sunday, January 30, 2005

The New Scourge

CB is back after a weeklong hiatus during which I've had to deal with, among other things, my computer becoming infected with a virus/spyware (twice), erasing my hard drive and losing all my files (twice), setting up a new hard drive, and re-installing my OS and various software programs (three times).

My experience is a case in point to reveal the huge problem spyware poses to personal computers. While the premise--3rd party programs installing software on your PC to collect information--may seem more of a nuisance than a malicious threat, be assured that this emerging phenomenon is decidedly in the latter category.

Even only a year ago, when asked what was the biggest problem plaguing the Internet, most people would say it was spam--unsolicited email sent in bulk to thousands of users. Spam emails were often the vehicle by which computer viruses would propagate. And while spam remains an irritant, the concerted efforts of email providers to protect against spam (via filters and such) and legal action taking against some leading spam perpetrators has resulted in spam posing a diminished threat to computers.

The same cannot be said for spyware, the new rogue element of the Internet. Spyware programs seem to be uniquely designed to propagate themselves, often hidden in other software, and once entrenched on a system, will hijack a computer. Spyware programs embed themselves deeply within the computer's framework and can be nearly impossible to remove. Though free downloadable programs such as Ad-Aware and Search and Destroy are designed to counter the infiltration of spyware on PCs, some people with infected machines like myself are left with no choice but to erase their hard drive completely--losing all their files in the process--and start from scratch. Many people have their own horror stories.

The main loss for me was the hours I had to spend putting my system back together, though one can imagine that for businesses faced with this threat, the loss could drain money and resources. I hope that leading companies in the tech world will speed up their efforts to counter this growing and more dangerous threat to computers across the Internet. Spam has, for the most part, been put in the can. Now to do the same to this latest scourge!

1 comment:

Chris said...

At least you have the technical expertise to be able to do all of those things on your own. Most people haven't the faintest clue (and that's how I can earn some extra money on the side...or as the case may be in a college dorm, be guilted into working for free).

In any case, there are some easy preventive measures one can easily take to avoid the scourge of spyware. First get Firefox and don't ever let IE connect to the Internet except for Windows Update. (And you should control that via a quality software firewall such as ZoneAlarm. No, Norton Internet Security DOES NOT QUALIFY AS A QUALITY FIREWALL. I have tested its security myself and I can break it in a matter of minutes if on the same LAN.) Also, run good AntiVirus software. For those UMD kids out there reading this, I highly recommend McAfee Enterprise edition. Scrap the $hit that came pre-installed on your computer and download the University distro-- it's lightweight, highly effective, and perpetually updatable.

Follow those simple steps, and don't install software from sources you don't trust, and you *should* be malware free.