Home Office: Spyware Wrap-Up

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Last week I said I was finished talking about spyware. But since then, I've learned of other sites I want you to look at and a product I foolishly forgot to mention--and I also came across a couple of follow-up issues. Stick with me for one last column on spyware; it'll be worth your time if my advice helps you dodge the sleaze.

Super Safety With SpywareBlaster

I think the free SpywareBlaster is probably the most effective passive program for preventing spyware from getting on your PC.

I said it was "passive" (and I'm pretty sure that didn't slip by you) because SpywareBlaster isn't a background program. Some antivirus and spyware programs, like PestPatrol or SpySubtract, load and sit in the background. But SpywareBlaster's different: You run the program; it makes a few changes to your PC; and then you close it. It just takes a second: Launch SpywareBlaster; click "Enable All Protection"; exit the program; and go on with your day.

SpywareBlaster does many things; but IMHO, there's one that's a biggie: It adds URLs of potentially dangerous sites to IE's Restricted Zone. Besides that, it blocks tracking cookies and guards your home page. You can explore the program and play around with its other features. It works in Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla, and Mozilla Firefox.

Many of you know about SpywareBlaster, and some may be using it. But I'm guessing too many of you haven't paid attention to one critical factor: The author frequently adds new sites to the program's list, and like the other anti-spyware tools I've mentioned, you have to update it in order for it to keep protecting you.

There are two ways to update SpywareBlaster: easy and easier. You can run the program weekly and click the Update button. (I set a reminder in Microsoft Outlook because I'm forgetful.) If you don't want to do it manually, for $10, you can get the automatic update feature so it's done for you. Just as important, when you plunk down your cash you're helping to support the author.

Dig This: Is productivity down in your office? Maybe your employees need to be motivated. Check out the new technique Reebok is using, and don't be surprised if your shop uses it soon, too. [2.5MB video]

More Products

I have a few more anti-spyware programs to mention and issues to tackle before I nag you to forward this newsletter.

First I want to tell you the good news about CWShredder, a removal tool for CoolWebSearch, an insidious browser-hijacker spyware app that goes by a dozen names. CWShredder's author and sole supporter was Merjin Bellekom, from The Netherlands. The tool was free and, unfortunately, the cost of bandwidth forced Bellekom to stop offering updates. (More on that hot topic in a future column.) In fact, CWShredder wasn't even available for download for a while. When it came back, Bellekom had to suspend updates at version 1.59.1.

Until the other day, that is: By the time you read this, InterMute, the company that produces AdSubtract and SpySubtract, will be offering CWShredder from its site at no charge. The company has also updated the program; go to its site to download CWShredder 2.0. Kudos to InterMute.

I also want to clue you in about the array of other anti-spyware products available.

Right now I'm using the free SpywareGuard from Javacool. Like PestPatrol and SpySubtract, it's a monitoring program that watches for spyware trying to install on my system.

I've also used PestPatrol, SpySubtract, Spy Sweeper, and the stay-resident monitoring features in Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE, and Spybot Search & Destroy. You can find all of those tools at our Downloads library. You're going to be disappointed, but I can't honestly say which is best; I will say all the products do the job efficiently. (That's a cop out, true; but realistically, the world-famous Bass International isn't capable of doing a full-fledged, lab-quality product comparison.)

If you want some help in deciding what you want to use, I have a site you should look at. Steve Gibson (right, that one, of SpinRite and ShieldsUp fame) told me about Eric L. Howes's fabulous Anti-Spyware Test Guide site. Howes tested nine anti-spyware products. He's candid about his testing methodology, limitations, and conclusions, and appears to be unbiased. I encourage you to look over his results and draw your own conclusions.

My Recommendations

It's been a long four weeks since we started dealing with spyware. Now it's time to quickly review what you need to do to keep the stuff off of your PC.

  1. Scan your system weekly with one (or all) of the spyware scanning products I've mentioned in previous weeks: Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, and SpywareGuide's X-Cleaner.
  2. Use SpywareBlaster. You can get it, and the other products I've mentioned, at the PC World Spyware Help Center.
  3. Read Andy Brandt's "Security Tips: Keep Viruses, Worms, and Spyware Off Your PC," then take a screwdriver to IE's ActiveX settings. Or do as reader John Huntley from Australia recommends, switch to Mozilla Firefox. "I find it a great browser to use, but more importantly the security it offers is great. I ran AD-Aware yesterday after 30 days of online use--and guess what? NOT ONE piece of spyware was on my system."
  4. Be suspicious and paranoid as you travel through the Web. Be wary of great-sounding Web site offers. And, geez, don't click on pop-ups.
  5. Resist the temptation to visit risky sites--places you wouldn't want your kids going to. Those sites are likely to do harm to your system's well being.
  6. If you missed any of my columns on the topic, you'll want to read them at PC World's Web site: "Spyware Primer," "More on Fighting Spyware," and "More Spyware Prevention and Removal."

Here's exactly what I do: I use SpywareBlaster (I won't give that up) to have my ActiveX settings in IE adjusted; and I scan for spyware each week. My strategy has kept me mostly free of spyware. At most, something may sneak on my PC and stay for a week until I do the scan. This routine works for me; and it'll work for you, too.

Finally (and I mean it this time), here's my prediction: The market for anti-spyware programs will explode in the next few months. Software vendors are going to cash in on the proliferation of spyware, and the buzz is that Microsoft also plans to enter the fray.

In fact, I know of at least four products in beta, each handling spyware in a different way. One tool is supposed to be fantabulously wonderful--especially dealing with IE's ActiveX. It's coming from someone you know (no, not me), and it's going to be a freebie. No, sorry, I can't talk about any of the products in detail because I've committed to a nondisclosure agreement. But I promise to update you the moment I'm allowed.

Dig This: Make sure you give the key to the right person, okay? [Warning: mildly risqué 2MB video.]

The Feds Get in the Act

Someday you may not even need a spyware product--if the government does its job, that is. (Ha!)

Here are a few articles you might want to read to get a better handle on the legislative battles against spyware.

The first is "Can Anything Stem the Spyware Tide?" I hope so, and so does our Anush Yegyazarian. She gives you the background behind both the House and the Senate's attempts to stamp out spyware.

Second, read "Spyware Bill Passes House" to learn about the 399-1 vote for the bill and how it restricts computer hijackers--or doesn't.

Finally, check out "Is Distributing Spyware a Crime?" and see if anything you're doing increases your risk for jail time. (Just kidding.)

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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