19: Computer Security in Software

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19: Computer Security
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much more sophisticated, creating a number of intrusive and irritating ways to get you to part with your money in one form or another There are basically three irritating Web browser problems: pop-ups, spyware, and adware Pop-ups are those surprise browser windows that appear automatically when you visit a Web site, proving themselves irritating and unwanted and nothing else Spyware , meanwhile, defines a family of programs that run in the background on your PC, sending information about your browsing habits to the company that installed it on your system Adware is not generally as malicious as spyware, but it works similarly to display ads on your system As such, these programs download new ads and generate undesirable network traffic Of the three, spyware is much less noticeable but far more nefarious At its worst, spyware can fire up pop-up windows of competing products on the Web site you re currently viewing For example, you might be perusing a bookseller s Web site only to have a pop-up from a competitor s site appear Pop-Ups Getting rid of pop-ups is actually rather tricky You ve probably noticed that most of these pop-up browser windows don t look like browser windows at all There s no menu bar, button bar, or address window, yet they are each separate browser windows HTML coding permits Web site and advertising designers to remove the usual navigation aids from a browser window so all you re left with is the content In fact, as I ll describe in a minute, some pop-up browser windows are deliberately designed to mimic similar pop-up alerts from the Windows OS They might even have buttons similar to Windows own exit buttons, but you might find that when you click them, you wind up with more pop-up windows instead! What to do The first thing you need to know when dealing with pop-ups is how to close them without actually having to risk clicking them As I said, most pop-ups have removed all navigation aids, and many are also configured to appear on your monitor screen in a position that places the browser window s exit button the little X button in the upper right-hand corner outside of your visible screen area Some even pop up behind the active browser window and wait there in the background Most annoying! To remedy this, use alternate means to close the pop-up browser window For instance, you can right-click the browser window s taskbar icon to generate a pop-up menu of your own Select Close, and the window should go away You can also bring the browser window in question to the forefront by pressing ALT-TAB until it becomes visible, and then press ALT-F4 to close it Most Web browsers have features to prevent pop-up ads in the first place, but I ve found that these types of applications are sometimes too thorough That is, they tend to prevent all new browser windows from opening, even those you want to view Still, they re free to try, so have a look to see if they suit your needs Applications such as AdSubtract control a variety of Internet annoyances, including pop-up windows, cookies, and Java applets, and are more configurable you can specify what you want to allow on any particular domain address but the fully functional versions usually cost at least something, and that much control is too confusing for most novice-level users
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Dealing with Spyware Some types of spyware go considerably beyond this level of intrusion They can use your computer s resources to run distributed computing applications, capture your keystrokes to steal passwords, reconfigure your dial-up settings to use a different phone number at a much higher connection charge, or even use your Internet connection and e-mail address list to propagate itself to other computers in a virus-like fashion! Are you concerned yet Setting aside the legal and ethical issues, and there are many, you should at least appreciate that spyware can seriously impact your PC s performance and cause problems with your Internet connection The threat is real, so what practical steps can you take to protect yourself Let s look at how to prevent spyware installation, and how to detect and remove any installed spyware Preventing Spyware Installation How does this spyware get into your system in the first place Obviously, a sensible person doesn t download and install something that they know is going to compromise their computer Makers of spyware know this, so they bundle their software with some other program or utility that purports to give you some benefit What kind of benefit How about free access to MP3 music files A popular program called Kazaa does that How about a handy e-wallet utility that remembers your many screen names, passwords, and even your credit card numbers to make online purchases easier and faster A program called Gator does that, and many other functions as well How about browser enhancements, performance boosters, custom cursor effects, search utilities, buddy lists, file savers, or media players The list goes on and on, yet they all share one thing they re simply window-dressing for the real purpose of the software So you see, for the most part spyware doesn t need to force its way into your PC Instead they saunter calmly through the front door If the graphic in Figure 1917 looks familiar, you might have installed some of this software yourself Some spyware makers use more aggressive means to get you to install their software Instead of offering you some sort of attractive utility, they instead use fear tactics and deception to try to trick you into installing their software One popular method is to use pop-up browser windows crudely disguised as Windows own system warnings (Figure 1918) When clicked, these may trigger a flood of other browser windows, or may even start a file download The lesson here is simple don t install these programs! Careful reading of the software s license agreement before you install a program is a good idea, but realistically, it does little to protect your PC With that in mind, here are a couple of preventive measures you can take to keep parasitic software off of your system If you visit a Web site and are prompted to install a third-party application or plug-in that you ve never heard of, don t install it Well-known and reputable plug-ins, such as Adobe s Shockwave or Flash, Figure 1917 Gator Corporation s acknowledgment warning are safe, but be suspicious of any others Don t click
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