MALWARE is a general term describing software programs
that slow down and sometimes crash your personal computer. Unlike viruses,
which are universally seen as malicious, MALWARE is viewed as advertising.
As such the various MALWARE purveyors have powerful advertising lobbyists
paying good money to your senators and congressmen to protect their right
to surreptitiously install MALWARE on your computer. What can you do?
First of all, protect your system.
ANTI-VIRUS. Make sure you have an anti-virus program
installed on your system. There are over a dozen popular programs, but the
most common ones available in North America are by Symantec
Trend Micro and
Computer Associates. They
can all be found anywhere that sells PCs and PC software, such as Best
Buy, Circuit City,
Office Depot, Office
Max, or even retail stores such as Target
In addition, they can be purchased and downloaded on-line. (Don't try it
unless you have a high-speed connection, though.)
Once you have an anti-virus application installed, it
must be kept up-to-date with the latest virus definitions. New viruses appear
daily, and the anti-virus companies analyze the new threats and add their
characteristics to the virus definition database which the anti-virus program
uses to recognize and remove viruses. Anti-virus programs automatically
check for updates, but when you purchase the program you have only paid
for one year of updates. When that year is up, you need to renew your subscription
(generally done on-line) to stay protected from new threats.
ANTI-MALWARE. Malware, also commonly called Spyware
and Adware, is frequently as malicious and damaging as viruses, but are
not technically viruses. Some Malware programs that employ virus-like techniques,
such as installing trojan horses, will be detected by anti-virus applications.
But most are not detected.
There are several anti-Malware programs available to combat
Malware infections. Two of the most effective programs have free versions
that are easily downloaded and installed via the Internet. Ad-Aware,
by Lavasoft, and Spybot
S&D are available at Download.com,
for example. The version of Ad-Aware that costs money offers real-time system
monitoring (like anti-virus programs). The free version must be manually
run to scan, detect and remove Malware.
Malware detection and removal applications also must be
kept up-to-date, since new Malware versions are released daily. Updates
for Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D are free.
Another excellent anti-Malware application is SpySweeper.
There is a limited-time evaluation version available at the company web
site. Microsoft also is developing an anti-Malware program called Microsoft
Windows Anti-Spyware. A beta version of the program is available at
the Microsoft Download page.
Something to keep in mind is that any program that offers
real-time protection is running constantly and uses system resources. What
that means is that they can slow your system down as well if your processor
is slow or if you don;t have enough memory to accommodate them, plus everything
else you want to do.
Although anti-virus programs and anti-Malware programs
can co-exist with each other, they generally do not do well with similar
programs. It is inadvisable to run more than one anti-virus application
or more than one anri-Malware application simultaneously. If you decide
to use another anti-virus program, completely uninstall the current one
BEFORE loading the new one.
FIREWALL. One more step you can take to protect
your system is to install a firewall. A firewall monitors traffic in and
out of your computer through the network (Internet) connection and blocks
anything suspicious. Unfortunately, in many cases it is up to you to "train"
the firewall by telling it what is allowed. Many firewalls have a list of
common applications that they allow, which saves you some work. But generally
after installing a firewall you will spend a week or so while the firewall
pops up a warning box asking whether such-and-such a program is allowed
to access the Internet. You will have FOUR choices.
(1) You can allow it just this once, in which case you
will get the same pop-up the next time it runs. (2) You can block it just
this once, in which case you will get the same pop-up the next time it runs.
(3) You can allow it always, in which case you will never be asked about
it again. (4) You can block it always, in which case you will never be asked
about it again.
The first two options are helpful if you aren't sure,
such as when you don't recognize the program identified. Block it once and
see if it stops you from doing something you were trying to do. If blocking
it doesn't cause you any problems, next time block it always. If it is apparent
that it is a critical program, then allow it always, so you aren't bothered
with the pop-up in the future.
If you accidentally "block always" a critical
application, you can open the firewall and change the application from "block
always" to allow.
There are free versions of commercial firewall programs
available, such as ZoneAlarm,
by Zone Labs. Many anti-virus manufacturers, such as Symantec
and McAfee, also offer firewall solutions.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
As a consumer, you have the prerogative of boycotting
companies that employ Malware or use Malware applications for Internet-based
advertising. Take note of the products and companies that show up in unwanted
advertising pop-ups that you see as a result of Malware and refuse to buy
anything from them. Don't reward companies that pay for Malware.
For example, it was revealed in late 2005 that Sony Corporation
added a hidden program on several of its music CDs. If you bought the CD
and played it on your PC, the program would, without your knowledge or permission,
install a "rootkit" into your system. A rootkit is a program that
resides deep in your system. In this instance, the rootkit modified infected
systems to hide files and directories from the owner. Sony's intention was
to hide its own copyright-protection software in the owner's system secretly.
Unfortunately, anyone who knew the file and directory naming scheme that
Sony hid could also use the Sony rootkit to hide its own malicious programs
from the computer's owner. Sony first denied it did any such thing, then
when presented with undeniable proof, blamed a third-party company to whom
the work was outsourced. Meanwhile, anyone who bought one of the Sony CDs
and made the mistake of playing the CD on a computer is now infected. By
a multinational corporation. As of January 2006, the state of Texas was
bringing suit against Sony. Keep that in mind next time you purchase a Sony
product. The whole sordid story can be found here.
Finally, there are Malware companies that masquerade as
anti-Malware companies. Advertisements pop up on your PC warning you that
you may be infected and offer a product to clean your system. For example,
there is a product called PS Guard that purports to be an anti-Malware program
when in fact it is a Malware program that is extremely difficult to remove.
NEVER BUY OR INSTALL ANYTHING THAT ADVERTISES ITSELF USING A MALWARE POP-UP.
The US government is investigating the problem of Malware,
but efforts to control Malware are minimal at best. Companies that provide
anti-Malware software have been threatened with legal action by Malware
purveyors. Unfortunately, since Malware purveyors are ADVERTISERS, they
have substantial money behind them, and although they might not win a legal
action against a small anti-Malware company, the cost of the legal proceeding
itself would drive the anti-Malware company out of business. Hearings
by the Federal Trade Commission go nowhere because advertising lobbyists
contribute enough to lawmakers for their specific application to be excluded
from narrow definitions of Malware.
If that makes you angry, a letter to your congressman
and senators might make you feel better. Your opinion as a voter probably
won't outweigh campaign contributions from advertising lobbyists when it
comes to influencing your elected representatives, but you never know.
Once your system is protected, it will be harder for malicious
programs to invade and attack your computer. However, it is a constant challenge
to stay ahead of the curve. If one malicious program slips in, it could
open the door for others. Some infections are not easily removed using off-the-shelf
applications. In some cases specialized techniques are needed to simply
LOCATE the malicious program, and complete removal is often complicated,
time-consuming, and experimental. That's when you call PC