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HomeNewsArchivesez Tech Talk: Viruses, Spyware and Spam, Oh My!

ez Tech Talk: Viruses, Spyware and Spam, Oh My!

Viruses, Spyware, Spam:
What They Are & What You Can Do About Them

Viruses, spyware, spam….Do any other words stir up as much anger among internet users?
While each of these nuisances is different, they share one common quality. They are malicious unwanted intrusions.
Many users, looking to vent their anger, wonder why their Internet Service Provider (ISP) can't do more to protect them.
Before examining the role of ISPs, let's look at the culprits.
Anyway you slice it, spam is annoying
First, spam. Perhaps the most familiar nuisance, spam is any unsolicited commercial or bulk email message. It is electronic junk mail.
On average, a user receives 18.5 spam messages a day. The most common types of spam are: medical, counterfeit merchandise (e.g. Rolex watches), diets & enhancers, finance (pre-approved mortgages), software offers, pornography and fraud. (In case you're curious, pornography represents, depending on the survey, from 7% to 20% of all spam.)
A surprising number of people read spam – as much as 15%, according to internet industry source, esafe.com. Interestingly, 4% of those asked reported making a purchase. (source: http://www.esafe.com/home/csrt/statistics/statistics_2005.asp)
Viral phenomena
Much more malicious, the next unwanted guest is a computer virus. For our purposes, a virus is a computer program designed to enter a "host" system. Once there, a virus starts to replicate itself automatically. In the process, it can destroy data or disable other programs in the host.
A virus attacks a host computer's software, not the hardware. Much of the buzz surrounding viruses stems from the oft-reported fact that viruses target flaws in certain software packages.
Spy versus Spyware
The last category of nuisance, spyware, is a specific type of software that monitors the use of a computer for the benefit of a third party. Unlike, a virus, spyware does not re-produce itself once it enters a host system. Rather, it loads ads, usually pop-ups, on a set schedule, when a new browser window is opened, or when you visit a certain type of site.
Some spyware can be programmed to monitor and transmit browsing patterns, and the most malicious varieties even track your keystrokes.
What is to be done?
The beauty of the internet is that it is an open system, connecting users around the globe, with little or no third party interference in the form of regulation or censorship. The de-centralized nature of the world wide web is its strength – and the source of many frustrations. Literally, anyone with a computer and a server can set up and host sites to send out spam, give birth to viruses and trick unsuspecting users with spyware.
But don't despair. You – and your Internet Service provider (ISP) – can take steps to contain and limit the nuisance.
Here are just a few simple steps, some do's & don'ts:
— Never buy anything from a spam email.
— Never reply to a spam email, even to "unsubscribe." Although it's tempting, trying to unsubscribe, or complain, will only confirm that your email address is "live."
— Ask your ISP about what they are doing to filter spam. Some ISPs are more diligent and aggressive than others. It pays to compare.
As for viruses,
— Be absolutely certain your know the source BEFORE you open an attachment in an email. If you do not recognize the sender, or were not expecting an email with an attachment, delete it.
— Subscribe to, and update, one of the many anti-virus services out there. Norton and McAfee are the best known, but there are others. Similarly, consider using a browser other than Internet Explorer (IE) or Eudora email. Other systems are targeted fare less often by viruses.
— For added peace of mind, back up important data regularly – just in case.
Finally, for spyware
— Avoid downloading free software. Music, video and other file-sharing programs often harbor spyware with them. Be sure about the site where you are making the download.
— Tedious as it is, read the fine print in the licensing blurbs that accompany downloads. You may be agreeing to accept programs that monitor your activity or periodically activate pop up ads on your system. When in doubt, DON'T.
— Search for programs that can identify and eliminate spyware from your system. There are many choices available. Be sure to find a reliable vendor.
Remember: your ISP is your natural ally against spam, viruses and spyware. ISPs have no interest and no incentive to see bandwidth gobbled up by spam or to have customers discover infected computers.

ez Tech Talk from your tech-savvy friends at Choice Communications.

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