I work in IT, and my job is technically Hardware Deployments, and hardware and software troubleshooting. The annoying thing is that this includes spyware removal. I cannot believe how HUGE of a problem this is becoming. There is apparently large money in creating programs that sneakily install themselves on people's computers. So here is my little guide to safe computing. It won't get rid of all problems, but it will definitely help!!
=====Chris' Guide to Spyware Avoidance=====
1. Don't click YES on anything unless you know EXACTLY what it's doing. If you go to a page, and something tells you that you need to install Such-And-Such in order to view their page, my advice is don't do it. Unless it's something like Macromedia Flash viewer, or Shockwave Viewer, it's better to not answer yes. Heck, I don't even answer NO to those things. I click the little "X" in the upper right hand corner of those boxes.
2. If something pops up saying you've won something...you haven't. It is very important to know what is happening on your computer. Sometimes things pop up saying you have a new message. Don't click on these. More than likely, they're trying to install spyware on your computer. Just hit ALT+F4 to close it. You might end up closing something else, sure, but it's better than trying to remove VX2 from your system...trust me.
3. Get a spyware removal program and run scans on your computer fairly regularly. The program I recommend is Lavasoft's Ad-Aware. Ad-Aware is a sweet spyware remover that can get rid of almost anything when it's run in safe mode. (PM me if you need instructions on how to boot your computer into safe mode.) http://www.lavasoft.de
is where you can get this nifty program. Make sure to "Check for Updates" before you scan for maximum effectiveness.
4. Try to avoid installing free things from the internet unless you know from a reputable source that they're safe. A lot of the "cutesy" programs install spyware on your computer as well as the program you originally wanted. That means things like Comet Cursor, or Smiley Central are definite "no-no's". WeatherBug is another that is not good. I know, they're cute. A lot of people like to install those things because they give you cute little smileys in your e-mail, "ALL FOR FREE!!!" Any economist will tell you, "There's no such thing as a free lunch", and they're right. You might not hand money to them for the program, but you're paying because they're making money off the ads that pop up on your machine, and likely, they're using your computer to send out ads to other computers. Stay away from free programs on the internet unless you know from a reputable source that they're safe.
5. Stay away from Kazaa, and other file-sharing programs. They're becoming illegal anyway, and many of them carry spyware components onto your computer. Computer geeks can probably point you in the direction of some spyware-free ones, though I won't mention them here.
6. Befriend a computer geek, and be sure to use them to answer questions. If you're not sure if something is safe to install, ask them FIRST. It's much easier to answer a question then to spend money to have someone clean your computer. I personally charge $30/hour for computer work I do at home, and my co-workers tell me I'm cheap. Sometimes, I've had to spend 4 hours cleaning spyware off a computer. That's $120 when if I had been contacted, I won't charge a dime to tell someone that a certain program is not safe. I don't charge to answer questions because I don't make my livelihood by fixing computers. I charge for my time partially as a punitive measure. Someone who has paid me $90 to fix their computer will be more likely to ask me next time their decision might cost them a hundred bucks.
A good friend who is also a computer geek will also likely work for food.
Feed them dinner, and they'll spend an entire weekend working on your computer.
7. Finally, and this is very important. If you have Windows XP, install Service Pack 2. There are a lot of Security fixes in Service Pack 2 that are essential to safe computing. (Pop Up blocking, ActiveX Control blocking). If you don't have Windows XP, my advice is to stop using Internet Explorer. I use Mozilla Firefox, and it has proven to be an EXCELLENT browser, with built in Pop-Up blocking, AND it doesn't install stuff automatically!! I have dropped my spyware problems to nothing on some of my clients' computers by switching them to Firefox. If you continue to use IE without Windows XP Service Pack 2, you're going to continue to have problems, sadly.
Thus ends Chris' Guide to Spyware avoidance.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.