Home Office: More on Fighting Spyware

I'm still angry.

I wrote about spyware last week, and ever since then I've been simmering. Spyware is ripping us all off. We're spending money and losing time fighting it, and I'm wasting precious space telling you about it instead of giving you productivity tips.

This week: More on preventing spyware from getting on your PC and determining what it is if you've been nailed. Next week? Getting rid of it.

How to Protect Yourself

Last week I told you about the difference between spyware and adware. I also told you about how the junk gets on your PC. Now I want to take a sec to elaborate--and show you how to guard against spyware.

Here's a situation you may have experienced: You're surfing and land on a site waving a banner ad. It's flashing on and off, frantically warning that there's spyware on your system. "Click here for good time," it blares. Oh, wait, sorry, that's another site. This one suggests that clicking the banner will help you rid your system of spyware. Hogwash. Another ad may offer you quicker downloads, fewer problems browsing, or smarter searches. Bullcrackers. (BTW, the same offers may come by way of pop-up ads.)

My advice? Ignore them all. Unless you're 100 percent sure of the site and the ad's veracity, pull a Nancy Reagan and just say no. That's because, IMHO, legitimate sites don't need to rely on come-ons or other deceptive--or even verging on deceptive--marketing practices.

If there's a worthy product for speeding up your system, or a terrific toolbar for searching the Internet, you'll read about it on PC World's site. Or even, I hasten to add, any of our competitors'.

Useful Digression: Here are two nifty tools that help you ignore those deceptive banner ads. For an Internet speed-up, read about CableNut, a free tool in "Who Knew Your...PC, Software, Camera, Printer, Network, Drive, Handheld...Could Do That?"( It's the second tip in the Internet section.) And Google's Toolbar can't be beat for searching--get it from our Downloads site.

Dig This: Have you ever wondered about the value of newsgroups (those big, public bulletin boards on the Internet)? They are, as PC World editor Andy Brandt says, "oh so infinitely, er, useful." Check out this one (and trust me, it's funny) at Google.

Spyware Background Checks

Fairly often I'll find adware--or even spyware--hidden in free software. You know the kind I'm talking about. The software promises to be my download manager for life or a dreamy browser search add-in, and, oh how it's something I really want to try.

My strategy for guarding against spyware in free products is straightforward. If I see a product that sounds intriguing, I'll do my due diligence and spend 5 minutes, sometimes 10 (okay, 15 if you're on dial-up, now stop whining) using the Web for a background check.

Here's How I Do It

Step 1: If I find a utility or program I want to try--even if it's a mainstream app--I first Google the product's name along with the word spyware. Try an experiment. Do a search with, say, Cool Web Search spyware and see what Google has to say. This gives you a good idea if a product is--or isn't--a worry. In this case, you'll see the dozens of variations of this particular sweetie. However, even if the product comes up clean, we still can't rest.

Step 2: I verify what I may have found with a Google search by checking other sites. PestPatrol's spyware database is a favorite. The company made things a little easier for me (and will for you, too) by recently by opening up its site for searches. Click in the search field on the left and enter the name of the program you want to check. (PestPatrol was recently purchased by Computer Associates, so if the site I mention isn't working, head for that company's Web page.

Step 3: I often want a second opinion, and sometimes a third. The Kephyr File Database is another good spot; so is Spyware-Guide.com.

Dig This: Keep the drunk on his feet. That's the name of the game; you have to move your cursor to the left and right to keep the guy upright. I got to about 90 (and that's without a beer). [Thanks to my editor, of all people.]

Next week, one more verification technique and tools for ridding yourself of spyware.

In addition to writing PC World's Home Office column, Steve Bass is the author of "PC Annoyances." Sign up to have Steve Bass's Home Office Newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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