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June 28, 2005
 - viruses, spyware and spam
 
You may be unaware of the presence and the growing impact of these “mal-wares”. For the past months several new types of viruses wreaking havoc on the Windows platform, adding to list of underlying problems associated with Spy-ware...
This month we should turn our attentions to the PC platform and address some sinister issues. I am referring to viruses and Spy-ware. You may be unaware of the presence and the growing impact of these “mal-wares”. For the past months several new types of viruses wreaking havoc on the Windows platform, adding to list of underlying problems associated with Spy-ware.

You may be in the position to support PC users or you may be a part-time PC user. Perhaps you can pass on the following advice. If you have simply visited the Internet, you may have inadvertently installed software on your PC. There are several versions of Spy-ware and Mal-ware that are secretly installed on your PC. These applications are gathering information about your surfing habits. They can record the sites you visit and even record your keystrokes, passwords etc. When a connection to the Internet becomes available, they transmit their finding back to their source.

By products of these applications are pop-up windows, and other annoyances that come with visiting the World Wide Web. They are created by marketers and hackers who want to data mine information about you without your knowledge. So you owe it to yourself to visit http://www.lavasoft.com and download their free program Ad-aware. This program will scan your PC, much like a virus scanner and allow you to quarantine these applications.

We have been installing it on every PC that comes within our reach. One PC user that had the benefit of an Ad-aware scan found over 400 of these programs on her PC. You may find that your Internet browsing experience will improve after running Ad-aware. The makers of Ad-aware are providing this software in the hopes that you will be impressed enough to by the automatic version of the program.

There are also some nasty new viruses haunting us lately. While we Mac users can be tempted to feel smug about the lack of viruses, we should be aware that PC viruses affect everyone. The latest Widows viruses such as NetSky, Bagle and MyDoom are getting more sophisticated using spy-ware like technology.

These new viruses when they are activated install their own SMTP programs. An SMTP program is normally responsible for sending email on a server. The virus scans the hard drive for any valid email, not just the ones in the address book, and send out copies of the virus to infect other users. The virus program also authors the email as if it was sent by one of the addresses it found.

System administrators often run virus-scanning software on our mail servers. We do this not only to stop viruses but also to send an email back to the sender to inform them that they may be infected. These “sender” addresses on these new viruses may be hiding the actual sending machine. This is a common practice for spammers, who want you to visit their site while they hide behind a phony email address.

Once again, you owe it to your self to install virus software. If you don’t you may be infected right now. You can visit http://free.grisoft.com and download their free AVG virus software. They provide this as a service (and also with the hope that you will buy their full version,) as well as free updated virus definitions. You can also try to use MacAfee or Norton Anti Virus software for around $60.00 Canadian.

One of the strains of the Bagle virus will disguise itself as an email from your own domain. It may be addressed from “support” or “management”. The payload is a zip archive called “information.zip” and provide a password to unlock it. If your fooled into opening this zip archive and enter the password… you will be infected. Pretty sneaky, Eh!

Generally, if you notice an unusual amount of activity on your PC – it may seem sluggish, or have a lot of hard drive activity, or activity on the network. You may have a virus. Once one PC becomes affected, the other PCs and servers on your network can be affected. Certain viruses can “worm” their way onto other machines that “never” go on the Internet.

A finally, a note my favorite annoyance – spammers! Spam, or unwanted email, is quickly outnumbering legitimate messages. I found another free spam scanner, called PostArmor which I use on my Mac at home. This great program is written in java, so that it can run on several platforms, Windows, Macintosh OS 8.6 – 9 and MacOS X. The program sits on your machine and gets your email from the mail server. It then, lists the suspicious messages, and passes “good” email through. You have 24 hours to look at the list after which the spam is automatically deleted. You can run PostArmor on one address and pay to use it on multiple addresses.