Bits & P.C.s: Spybot Search and Destroy

Sounds like the name of a game, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s one of the most useful utility programs you can install on your computer and, even better, you can download it for free.

As you surf the Web, there are Web sites that will place small files named cookies on your computer. These files contain information such as whether you have been to that site before, it may contain your customer number, purchase history, or other information. The data is encoded and (in theory) can only be read by the site that placed the cookie on your computer.

There are other companies that place a cookie on your computer that tracks the Web sites you visit and sends this information to them for the purpose of “target marketing.” With target marketing you are sent pop-up ads for products or services based on the Web sites you are visiting. If you are looking at airline tickets you will get ads for car rentals, hotels, and other things that tie in to tickets. The Spybot program will search your computer for these cookies and delete them.

More importantly, the program will also search your computer for other “goodies” that Web sites and Trojan programs may have installed. There are dialer programs that will use your phone modem to connect to sites throughout the world. This usually occurs during the night, or when the computer is turned on but not being used. These sites are usually some type of 900 number that will appear on your phone bill and may be hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Another thing that Spybot searches for is a “key logger” program. These little cuties monitor everything that you type on the keyboard, saves the information to a file, then sends the file to a Web site when you are online. Some of the key logger programs also have the ability to track the web sites that you visit and what you have displayed on your screen.

The danger of the key logger program is that the recipient of the file can “play back” and see everything that you have done on the computer. They will not have to guess at any passwords or credit card numbers—they can see what you actually entered.

The current version of Spybot knows of more than 12,000 different programs and other evils that may lurk in your computer. Even innocent sounding programs such as “Precision Time” or “Gator” have spyware in them. Spybot will warn you that if it removes the spy part, some programs may no longer function, but it does give you the option to place those programs on an exclusion list.

Spybot will also immunize your computer so that the bad stuff cannot be installed to begin with. It can also lock your search engine and homepage so that they cannot be hijacked from where you currently have them.

Again, the program is free and can be found at It’s definitely a must-have.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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