Sunday, January 29, 2006

Simple Tips to Safe and Spyware-Free Surfing

You got a new computer, and a new Internet connection. But the very next week, your computer is slow and irresponsive. Why? Although there are several other reasons, one important reason is your surfing habits that make your computer vulnerable to adwares and spywares. Not only these tiny but harmful pieces of these softwares make your computer slow, but also they compromise your privacy and security. Here are a few tips I have learned to keep my computer spyware free.

1) Always keep your Address bar enabled. It is a good idea to use Maxthon, Netcaptor etc. instead of Internet Explorer as these have better pop-up blockers and also, you have a clean desktop. You can even find out the address of any pop-up when using these softwares.
Addresses in your address bar:
Make sure you keep an eye on the first part of your address, especially when visiting websites involving transactions, e-commerce, etc. You can always avoid being spoofed by fake websites if you do that.
The address is always in this format: "http://[website address]/[webpage path and filename]?[variables]" (Some secure sites may begin "https://", and FTP sites begin "ftp://")
[website address] - This is the domain name of the server (website) you are visiting. For example, Blogger has the website "www.blogger.com". The part ".blogger.com" will never change for Blogger. The part "www", called the sub-domain, can change depending on circumstances. For example if you are doing a transaction, it may be replaced by "secure".
One example is the addresses of the Blogger blogs. The part ".blogspot.com" remains the same for every blog publish by Blogger on its own server. But the part before it ("thehunk" for this blog) is different for different blogs. Always make sure this part is an address known to you, for example "www.ebay.com" for the international eBay auction site, and "www.ebay.in" for Indian eBay auction site.
[webpage path and filename] - This is different for every different page you visit within the same website. There is no need to be worried about it.
?[variables] - This may appear if the previous page had a form, and you are taken to this page when you submitted the information. It may appear for other reasons too. There is no need to be worried about it.

2) Always keep your Status Bar enabled. Windows has the bad habit of disabling status bar by default. Internet Explorer has an option "Show friendly URLs" in the Advanced tab. Make sure this option is turned off. All that were said about addresses in address bar, applies to addresses in status bar too. But the status bar displays addresses when you point to a hyperlink. For example, take these two hyperlinks (don't click on them):
1) Click here to visit Google!
2) Click here to visit Google!
Although both links look the same, one of them is spoofed. Can you find out which one? You can when you have Status bar enabled. Simply point to the link, and the website it will take you is shown in status bar.

3) Be extremely careful about Advertisements. Perhaps the most attention-grabbing ads are those with "Free Smileys" in them. Please note that although such programs (SmileyCentral for example) appear to give you a wide range of attractive smileys, they are actually spywares and resource hoggers and are the main cause for slow speed of computer. Then there are the popular "Free Screensavers" ads. These screensavers when installed, also installs spywares along with them.

4) Choose your Toolbars wisely. There are many toolbars out there which can get into your computer mostly with your knowledge. Authentic toolbars from Google, Yahoo, etc. are okay to keep installed, as long as you make sure you download them from the actual websites of Google, Yahoo, etc. (not other websites, and not from search results). Even then they are not needed for a home user. If you don't find any use for a toolbar, uninstall it. Toolbars take extra resources in memory when Internet Explorer is running. Do not install non-authentic toolbars like new.net (new dot net), gaim, weatherbug etc.

5) Windows 2000/XP has an advanced tool called Windows Task Manager. It can be launched through "Ctrl-Alt-Del" or by right-clicking taskbar, and clicking "Task Manager".
The Applications tab displays all open windows. To find out the process (filename of the program of any window), right click it and click "Go To Process"
The Process tab displays everything that is running on your computer. Even spywares can't hide from this list. Therefore you must take sometime and find out which of the processes displayed are legitimate. Simply search for them in these folders: "C:\WINDOWS", "C:\Program Files". Very rarely programs may be installed in root of C drive, or somewhere else. If you don't find the file, search for it in your entire hard-disk.
On finding the file, right-click it and click Properties. If there is a Version tab, take a look at it. Files from Microsoft Corporation, and any company of a hardware or software you use, are normally legitimate. Take a look at the Location in General tab. This will show you where the file is, and can be used to determine if it is legitimate.
If you find out a process that is illegitimate, right-click it in Task Manager and click "End Process Tree". Click Yes. Right-click the file you found in Search Results, and click Open Containing Folder. Note the name of the folder. Click Up button (or press Backspace), and delete that folder into the Recycle Bin. DO NOT delete if the folder is C:\WINDOWS or C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32, or other legitimate folders of Windows 2000/XP. In that case, or if you are in doubt, delete the file itself.

6) Keep your antivirus sofware updated, and make sure Always On Protection (or equivalent) is turned on. If you don't have an antivirus, or if the subscription has expired, you can obtain free antivirus for home use: Avast Home Edition
If you have an anti-spyware sofware, keep it updated and regularly scan your computer. If you don't, you can download Lavasoft Ad-Aware SE Personal.

PS: If you don't understand no. 5, don't be worried. follow no. 6 as it will remove almost all spywares automatically.

If you have other tips you wish to share, please add them as remarks.

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