Bits & P.C.s: Spyware and you

One of the items that has been in the news lately is spyware. What is spyware, and what can you do to minimize the risk to your computer system?

Quite simply, spyware is a program that is designed to track what you are doing with your computer. The program may be designed to create a record of everything that you do on the computer; it may record every keystroke that you make; every file that you open; every picture that you view. This record may be designed to be sent automatically via e-mail to the person who installed the spyware on your system, whether this is your supervisor or by someone who has gained access to your computer over the Internet.

Many companies have software installed that track their employees’ computer usage; some of this monitoring is done to control costs. If a company uses an online database service, they may pay by the amount of time the service is being used or by each search, which may amount to $75 or more.

Other companies monitor usage to make sure employees are not surfing the Net all day or are uploading/downloading questionable material or visiting porn sites.

Some of the hackers will install spyware on your computer to obtain your passwords or credit card numbers. Since the file that is created will have a record of the Web sites that you visited along with anything that you may have typed in, they will have all the information necessary if they wanted to cause problems such as identity theft.

So what can you do to minimize the chances that your computer will become a victim? The first thing is to install the critical updates from the Microsoft Windows update Web site. If you have never updated your system, it may take an hour or more to download the updates, but they are important. There have been many security holes in Windows that these updates help to close.

The second thing is to control your e-mail. Install a virus scanner that checks your mail, both incoming and outgoing, to be sure that you are not infected and to guard against infections received through e-mail. Scan all your files at least once a week and keep the program updated.

Next, install a firewall program or activate the one that is built into Windows XP. A firewall is a program that helps to isolate your computer from outsiders while you are on the Internet. The firewall may block pop-up ads, restrict the information that is sent over the Web, as well as prevent others from gaining access to your system. Many firewall programs also allow you to control cookies as well as removing the temporary files that are created while you are online.

You should also run a program such as Spybot Search & Destroy to locate spyware, dialer programs, and other files that may contain personal information, including cookies.

Even if you have nothing to hide, you should also have nothing to reveal.

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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