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Dealing with Unwanted Spyware and Parasites

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Do you have "Spyware" on your system? Parasites or an Unwanted Search Engine Toolbar? Don't panic -- this is a learning experience on how some of these so-called friendly companies treat you as a valued customer! Many of us are totally amazed (including myself) at just how sneaky and underhanded some of these companies are.

What is Spyware? A technology that assists in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. On the Internet, "spyware is programming that is put in someone's computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties." As such, Spyware and or Malware is cause for public concern about privacy on the Internet. These type applications also in many cases can cause unknown browser problems. Fortunately Vista/Win7 has an option to disable "Add-ons" (Toolbars) to troubleshoot browser problems.

How did this happen?

When your Security settings are "soft" these sites take advantage of this and actually install software on your system without your knowledge or consent. In other cases downloaded software comes bundled with other "components" (spyware/adware) that you don't realize exists until you start having problems or discover your browser has been hijacked. Make sure you read and understand the EULA fully before you click "I accept" ...

Recommended Minimal Security Settings

In most cases the "default" browser settings are not enough to properly protect your machine. In other cases, the new rash of Trojans will actually lower your Security settings for the "Internet Zone", thus bypassing any security you thought you had.

To reset your machine to the Default Level:

Close all instances of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express/Windows Mail
Control Panel | Internet Options | Click on the "Security" tab
Highlight the "Internet" icon, click "Default Level"
IE 7/8 - Make sure the option "Enable Protected Mode" is selected

To setup the "Internet  and Restricted Zones" with a Custom Level (recommended)
The single most exploited setting in Internet Explorer is the "IFrame" option ... turn it off!
(I sure wish Microsoft would eliminate this option!)

Next: Click on the "Content" tab, Click the "Publishers" button

  • Highlight and click "Remove" any unknowns, click Ok
    Why is this so important? [read this]
  • Click on the "Advanced" tab
  • Uncheck: "Install on demand (other)", click Apply/Ok
    To test your setup after making the above changes [click here]

How To: Prevent this from happening again?

The first thing you must remember is that most Antispyware tools are basically for removal after the fact.
The trick is "Layered Protection for maximum prevention"!

1) Use a HOSTS file and keep it updated!
2) Make use of the Internet Explorer Restricted Zone
3) Install a firewall (see -  Security Issues)
4) Install an Antivirus program (see -  Security Issues)
5) Add a Startup Monitor (freeware) to protect your system [more info]
6) Improving the security of your computer (Microsoft)

How To: Safely remove these Parasites from your system

Freeware Antispyware Products

Typically these products are fine for mild infections, however they almost always score at the bottom of the list when these products are compared to full-version paid products for effectiveness. Warning - installing several Anti-Spyware programs is fine, but I've seen too many cases where there are several of these running in the background. Most of these type Security programs are compatible with each other, however it is never recommended to have more than one program monitoring for changes in your system.

Windows Security Essentials (freeware)
Microsoft's program includes "real-time" protection. Microsoft Newsgroups

Other Highly Rated Anti-Spyware Programs

 

SpyBot S&D  http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html (freeware - XP/Vista)
Note: due to poor testing results this product is no longer recommended.

Ad-Aware Free
Note: due to poor testing results this product is no longer recommended.
Caution: now bundles the Ask Toolbar and is selected by default!

Editors Note: there are many other specialized tools, "fixes", etc. that are created for specific type infections. These are not listed here for obvious reasons - these are best handled by Experts that will assist you in the various Forums. Attempting these by yourself can do more harm than good - resulting in a worse situation than you were already in.
 

Double-check your system with HijackThis! (after using one of the above)

HijackThis™ is a free utility which quickly scans your Windows computer to find settings that may have been changed by spyware, malware or other unwanted programs. HijackThis creates a report, or log file, with the results of the scan.

When the scan is finished, make sure to Save the results (generates: "hijackthis.log")

The spyware and hijackware removal specialists! Next, go to: http://www.spywareinfoforum.com/
Sign in, (registration required) go to the "Malware Removal" section.
Press "New Topic", copy and paste the hijackthis.log into your new message.

Visiting the SpywareInfo Forum or one of the other recommended Forums, to finish cleaning up your system is highly recommended. As none of these "Anti-Spyware" scanners can no longer completely remove these pests. This is mainly due to new daily threats and the use of random generated filenames used by these parasites!

Editors Note: in recent tests most "Anti-Spyware" programs were only about 75% effective. (many even less!)
This is another reason why posting your HijackThis log is so important.

Additional Prevention

Both the HOSTS file and the Restricted Zone entries target most of the major parasites, hijackers and unwanted search engines. If you are also having trouble with unwanted pop-ups - [start here] There are however several severe security risks that still exist in Internet Explorer. Users can protect themselves by taking several other steps. [more info]

Various Troubleshooting Articles

Other Spyware and Parasite related Sites and Newsgroups

Editors Note: you may find after removing some of these parasites especially the ones that install unwanted Toolbars (BHOs) that your existing Toolbar setup may be corrupt. [more info]

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