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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Number Four:

“Worms, Trojans and Backdoors, Oh My!

: How to Avoid Taking a Swen Dive off the Deep End”

What are computer Viruses?

The term “Virus” is used as a broad term for a range of malicious programs (Worms, Trojans, Backdoors, etc…) which are designed to infect and replicate across computer networks, often infecting tens of thousands of computers and causing major Internet congestion. While not often directly damaging to data, viruses are capable of causing a wide range of computer maladies.

How do you protect yourself?

Knowledge and behaviour: The majority of modern computer viruses spread via email, any message with a program attachment, should be treated with the utmost of caution.

The recent “Swen” worm is a good example of where a close examination of email messages can save a world of headaches. Swen is devastatingly effective because it takes on the guise of an email patch from Microsoft: “Use this Patch Immediately!” the subject line reads. There’s only one problem with this, Microsoft has spent billions of dollars designing an internal system for Windows updates, which means that they never send patches via email.

If you take the time to scrutinize your email carefully, it’s possible to avoid 95% percent of viral threats.

This goes for the other major source of viruses: software downloads. It’s very tempting to download less than legitimate versions of commercial software especially with broadband Internet access becoming readily available. Not only illegal, this kind of activity is like opening the front door of your house to a flood of potential virus issues. File-sharing programs, such as Kazaa, are now becoming an increasingly popular method for virus delivery. No matter what you download from the Internet, even software from completely legitimate sources, it should always be scanned with an anti-virus program first.

Depending on your anti-virus program, this is usually as simple as right-clicking on the downloaded file and choosing “Scan for Viruses” before running the program.

It is also vital to make sure that your anti-virus software is completely up-to-date. With new viruses coming out daily, it’s all too common for an “anti anti-virus virus” (a virus designed to side step common anti-virus programs) to slip right by your protection. This is another reason why it’s so important to pay attention to suspicious email messages. I usually suggest that anti-virus software be updated at least once a day, if not more often.

Out-of-date virus protection is about as useful as practicing caber-tossing with match sticks.

posted by Kusari 2:46 PM

The third...

“The Spyware Who Came in From the Cold”

A huge computer menace these days, what exactly is “Spyware”?

The best way to envision Spyware is to think of an actual spy inside your computer, designed to “liberate” certain data and sabotage the inner workings whenever possible. This spy is a master of disguise, she can be hidden in a program that you installed for a totally different purpose, such as the add-on programs included with the popular file-sharing software: “Kazaa”, a major bad karma trip that should be avoided at all costs.

Slipping unseen onto your computer, Spyware can even be automatically installed onto your system, such as the little “gems” created by the notorious Gator Corporation. Some Spyware can actually seem quite cool at first, such as the popular browser enhancement: “Hotbar”, which initially may not appear to cause problems.

Most problems with Spyware tend to be totally invisible, as they run in the background of your computer, tracking things like demographic information related to the websites you visit every day. Yes, somewhere out there, there may be a corporation tracking your every visit to and reselling that data to the folks who are deluging your inbox with bulk kitty litter advertisements 500 times a day.

Real trouble may not be obvious until several different spyware components are installed, all competing to send data back to their individual HQs, not only choking your Internet bandwidth, but also creating general system instability. Shoddily programmed Spyware is a huge factor when it comes to 85% of the system stability issues I see every day.

Note that Spyware differs from viruses in several ways, the most important of which being that you are generally giving permission for Spyware to be installed. If a piece of software is going “liberate” data from your system, it will almost certainly be written, but perhaps not clearly, into the End User License Agreement agreed to when you install the software.

One trick that can be used to outfox these programs is to check them out before installation, such as through a service like

What should you do if you suspect that you have some Spyware on your system? There are several tools for the removal of Spyware. My pick is of Ad-Aware from As with any software of this nature, please handle with care or let a professional handle your Spyware “elimination” needs.

posted by Kusari 2:45 PM

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