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Tech Savvy: Malware 1/03/2008

by Aaron Harper

WALSENBURG- Computers, at least the ones working properly, do precisely what they are told.  That′s what makes them both useful and a pain in the neck sometimes.  The problem is that they do precisely what ANYONE tells them to.  This means that if you tell it to do something that you really didn′t want done (usually in retrospect), it will cheerfully do it, sometimes to its own detriment.

    It also means that a malicious person with tech skills can make your computer do things you may not want it to do.  Fortunately, this is not magic, and there are rules on what can and cannot be done.  This week′s Tech Savvy column is about malicious software programs (Malware for short) and what to do about them.

    Malware is defined as “software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner′s informed consent” (2007, wikipedia.com).  First on the list are the most destructive programs, but also the easiest to deal with: viruses and worms.  Most of these are strictly destructive, consuming mostly time, but often destroying data.  They are easily dealt with by a decent and updated virus scanner.

    I am not going to go into the psychology behind the people responsible for these programs, but I will say that they are after instant gratification.  It is easier to destroy than create, and in the pursuit of quick and easy gratification these folks generally make fairly ineffective weapons.  The end result is less then the mayhem they and the sensationalists at irresponsible media would hope for, and closer to annoying slowdowns and error screens.

    There is another type of creature though… one that creates software in order to defraud and deceive.  They make software that change where you go on the web in order to drive up their statistics allowing them to sell ad space to legitimate companies for a higher amount.  Their creations log what you do and where you go, so they can record it all and sell the demographic data.  They also pop up windows attempting to sell you things.  The worst of the lot, which are fortunately rare, are dialers.  These get a computer to dial 1-900 numbers and the like using the computer′s modem and charge it to your phone bill.  Again, these are fairly easy to deal with using software tools.

    Tools to take care of these problems also sometimes come with unexpected additions.  One of the worst infected computers I have ever seen belonged to a person who, upon realizing his computer had been infected with a pop up malware program, then clicked on a pop up that was advertising a malware remedy.  I won′t say who it was to protect the guilty, but a little common sense would have gone a long way.  Use a trusted name like McAffee, Norton, Trend or AVG.  To get rid of Adware and Spyware, use Adaware or Spybot Search and Destroy.

    Rather than go through all of them and give you the web addresses of where to get them, you can go to www.rbwifi.net/downloads.htm and take what you need.  All the software there is free for non-commercial use.  Simply download what you need and install it by following the directions on the screen.

    With the proper diligence, your computer can be kept clean and running like a top.  If only it were so easy to do that for us!  Next week′s Tech Savvy will be how to keep your computer use from affecting your health.