Friday, August 6, 2010

CFS Weekly Newsletter Announcement - July 9, 2010

COMPUTER TIP OF THE WEEK
from Dr T -- RTemlak4dds@aol.com
=: Take Out The Trash :=
Combat Malw*re: A Step-By-Step Guide
[Note: due to spam policies by some of the larger e-mail services, we had to change the combined word "mal" + "ware" into "malw*re" or we may have been blocked from sending this to you.]
Much like Haight-Ashbury in the fabled 1960s, the Internet was once home to a free-wheeling family of occasionally addled but always peaceful inhabitants, where goodwill held sway, a place where the streets were filled with happy, helpful residents, all delighted to welcome a newcomer. It was a boisterous place, filled with clamor and confusion, but peace and love reigned supreme.
Those days are long gone, both in North-Central San Francisco and on the Internet. We can't do anything about dangers on the city streets, but we can help protect you from the viruses, spyware, and other nasty critters you might encounter on the Web. We'll give you some background so you can recognize the risks, and then we'll show you how to defend yourself.
Recognize The Problem
Computers don't get tired. They do get old, but because they're neither arthritic organisms nor gummed up electro-mechanical devices, they don't get slow and rickety as they age (like some writers, for example). So why is your PC so slow? Possibly because it's infested with malw*re of one sort or another: a virus, spyware, adware, or a Trojan.
In fact, if you have plenty of memory and free hard drive space, a noticeable slowdown is one of the most obvious signs that your system is infected with some sort of malicious software.
Other signs of an infestation can include finding that your Web browser's home page or search engine has been changed or replaced, suddenly being inundated with pop-up ads, regular system or application crashes, receiving odd emails -- including emails from yourself, startup errors, and error messages (sometimes including a fake Blue Screen of Death) accompanied by "scareware" ads offering to solve your problem, for a price.
Keep in mind that these are not all definite signs of an infection; some could also indicate hardware or software problems that have nothing to do with malw*re. But because it's usually fairly easy to remove malw*re, we can quickly eliminate an infection as a possible source of whatever problem you might be experiencing.

The Tools; How To Use Them
Most viruses or spyware don't purposely cause noticeable problems; after all, the most effective attack is one the victim never notices. Instead, the usual goal is to collect information or to use your computer as part of a network of "zombies" to attack other systems. But in doing so, the virus, spyware, or adware drains your system's resources and causes conflicts with other, legitimate software. This causes crashes and slowdowns, and these you do notice. That's what gives the game away. What you need is a set of tools you can use to rid your system of any existing infestation and then guard against a reoccurrence.

Antivirus. The first tool you need is a solid AV (antivirus) application, such as Avast! Free Antivirus (http://www.avast.com/) or Malwarebytes Anti-malw*re (free; http://www.malwarebytes.org/). The typical AV app will scan your system for various forms of malw*re and let you delete or otherwise neutralize any threats it finds.

Even the best antivirus program does you no good unless you actually use it. Run the scanner every day, making it part of your computing routine: Boot up your system and let the scanner run while you go make coffee. Update the scanner at least weekly. These tools use a threat database to help them locate infections, and that database must be updated regularly. Note that it is normally not a good idea to run multiple AV applications; most have components that run all the time, and these competing programs can cause problems.
Antispyware. Spyware is software that collects information about you and your computing habits without your knowledge. (Adware is similar, but it's normally benign software -- the use of which you, knowingly or not, actually approved.) In a worst-case scenario, the information collected can be used to pilfer financial information, steal your identity, or otherwise do serious harm. Even absent such malicious intent, spyware and adware can slow your system down to a crawl and inundate you with irritating pop-up ads and messages.
An antispyware application, such as Ad-Aware (free; http://www.lavasoft.com/) or Spybot-S&D (free; http://www.safer-networking.org/), works like the AV applications discussed above: It uses a threat database and other methods to look for hazards; thus, as with the AV apps, you need to run and update your antispyware program regularly.

Unlike with antivirus applications, it is perfectly fine to run more than one antispyware program. One application may find adware that another program missed, and antispyware applications rarely conflict with one another.

Install An Anti-malw*re Application
We don't have room here to cover the use of every available anti-malw*re tool or suite, so we will use Malwarebytes Anti-Mal-ware as an example; it eliminates both viruses and spyware/adware, and it's free, readily available, effective, free, and we like it. Did we mention FREE?
Go to http://www.malw*rebytes.org/ and click either the Download Free Version button or the Buy Now Full Version button.

If you've opted for the free version, you'll be taken to a download site; click the Download Now button. (Your browser may try to "protect" you by disallowing certain downloads, in which case simply OK the download.) When the File Download dialog box appears, click the Save button. Save the installation file to your Desktop; you can erase the file after the program is installed. The Anti-malw*re installer is close to 6MB, so it may take several minutes to download on a slow connection.

Once the installer is downloaded, double-click it and click the Run button when the Open File/Security Warning dialog box apppears. Windows Vista and Windows 7 request permission for the installer to make changes to your system; click Yes. Select English as the appropriate language and then click OK to start the Anti-malw*re setup wizard. Click Next. Read and accept the Anti-malw*re license agreement, and then click Next and Next again. Accept the program's default location or browse to a different one; click Next to accept the location and then Next again to accept the folder name. At this point you can opt to have the installer create a Desktop icon, a Quick Launch icon, or both; having done so, click Next and then the Install button.
Anti-malw*re takes only a minute or two to install. When it's finished, you can opt to check for program updates and then launch the program.

Run Anti-malw*re
To run the program, double-click the Anti-malw*re icon. (Vista and Win7 may ask you to confirm that you wish to allow the program to make changes to your system.) When the program launches, you'll see several tabs, most of which are self-explanatory or easily understood simply by clicking them. The most important are the Scanner, Update, and Quarantine tabs.

Start the scan. Under the Scanner tab, you'll find three types of scans: Perform Quick Scan, Perform A Full Scan, and Perform Flash Scan. (The latter checks memory and autorun objects; it's available only to users of the commercial product.) The Quick Scan is a fast check of memory and the Windows Registry; it takes several minutes. A Full Scan is a complete examination of all indicated drives, system memory, and the Registry. It can easily take up to an hour or more, depending on the size of your drives and how many files reside on them.

View the results of a scan. Once the scan is complete, you can see a recap of the scan and the results by clicking the Logs tab and then double-clicking the appropriate log entry.

If Anti-malw*re finds any threats, it will list them and let you select and quarantine them. Once quarantined, they'll be listed under the Quarantine tab. You can leave them there or select one or more and click the Delete button to remove them from your system.

Get It. Update It. Use It.

There are plenty of free and commercial products to help keep your PC free of viruses and spyware. No matter which ones you decide to use, keep in mind that simply downloading a tool does absolutely nothing for you. You have to install and then regularly use and update the utilities if you're to benefit from having them. Do so, and your computer will be full of peace and love and goodness. Fail to do so, and it'll be full of... well, malw*re.
by Rod Scher
[Source: SmartComputing.com]

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