Technology Today February 2005
Spyware is becoming one of the worst problems we face as computer users after viruses, worms, and self inflicted wounds. With all the pop ups that hit us and offers of programs to clean things up, I have discovered that there are more packages out there that add to the problem then actually help to solve it.
For several years now, my normal routine has been to run two anti-spyware products on a computer that has become unstable. First is Spybot Search and Destroy, http://spybot.safer-networking.de/en/index.html. By the way, if you go to the spybot.com site, you won’t find them but will find some other products as you are directed to another web site. The troubles of having your domain grabbed by someone else. I have found this one a very good tool. The second I run, and I do that because Spybot just doesn’t get everything, is Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware. www.lavasoftusa.com. I find this also to be a very stable anti spyware program but for the same reason as before, I run it because it just doesn’t catch everything that Spybot does. Both of these products are free to use for home computers and I have found that the companies do a very good job of keeping them up to date. It doesn’t seem to matter much which one you run first but you do need both of them to clean up most of the problems out there.
Now the tools that I have been using really depend on how badly corrupted the computer is. If I get millions of pop ups, can’t open a web page without getting sent to who knows where or can’t even open it to begin with, I then open up my bag of industrial tools. The first is Hijack This, http://www.merijn.org/ which is a great technical utility program for identifying and cleaning up things from your start up group and browser. By the way, if you do use this program, you really should know what you are doing as it does give you more control over what you can delete than a novice or inexperienced user should have. The other program is CW Shredder, now run by InterMute, http://www.intermute.com/spysubtract/cwshredder_download.html is a very good program for cleaning out the Cool Web Search hijackers and its variants. Sometimes I often run this program first as it is a quick scanner and repair tool.
I had picked Spybot and Ad-Aware because they were highly rated among the PC people that I chat with on a regular basis and in fact, ZD Net www.zdnet.com show them to be both rated Very Good.
So while out at the CES show at the Showstoppers event, which by the way, is the best one they have done to date, I saw this company called Webroot, www.webroot.com and decided to take a look at their Spy Sweeper program. You can download a free 30 day trial of the program and use it. After 30 days, it becomes a subscription program like most of the anti virus products for a pretty small amount.
Installing the program is very easy to follow. After it is installed, the first thing it does is ask you to connect to the internet and check for updates. When you install it, it tells you that you have the 30 day trial and takes you to a web site where you can buy your one or two year subscription. For now, just close the window. I like how the screen is set up as you have a quick and easy look at what is available to the program. There is an informative box at the bottom that tells you the progress of all the events as they take place. When you hit the “Sweep Now” button, the “Sweep System” screen comes up and after you hit the “Start” button, it gives you a very good progress report of the sweep going on. So far, I have run this on three computers, one my work machine which should be clean by most standards, and the others were machines have seen some use and abuse. Good candidates to try out the software.
When it finished the scan, it takes you to the summary page where you can see what it found and if you right click on an item, it will take you to Webroot’s site to show you details of that item. Most of the items that will be found on a fairly clean system will be tracking cookies which really have no impact on your computer at all. In fact, most tracking cookies come from web sites that you really didn’t visit but did have a banner ad or something like that on a site you did visit. Again, tracking cookies are really benign creatures you can just ignore. What you have to do is to check the list for other items and investigate them. Once you check them out, you can click “next” to clean up the items.
Probably the strongest part of this program is the Shields section. Here is where Spy Sweeper will track and protect your systems Internet Explorer, Start up programs, Windows System, and the Hosts file from being corrupted by spyware in the future. This also includes preventing your system from getting the home page hijacked or having your search page redirected to another site. Probably two of the safest precautions you can have when surfing the web. When you run the program, you keep it resident to allow it to keep looking for problems on your computer. It also automatically updates itself to keep both the program and definitions up to date.
In my test on a mildly messy computer, Spy Sweeper cleaned out quite a few problems and restored the home page and search pages as well. As a further test, I then ran Spybot and Ad-Aware both on that computer and discovered that there were a few minor things that were left behind. Spybot found four tracking cookies, an orphan registry entry, and a DSO exploit. Ad-Aware found seven more tracking cookies and a low risk toolbar addition. One other thing I liked about Spy Sweeper was that it also watches out for your registry and start up areas of Windows to let you know if something makes a change there.
For my second test, I found a system that was very messy. The good news was it had no viruses on it but the home page had been hijacked, search pages redirected, and there was tons of spyware from kids downloading everything from Kazaa and a couple of other sharing programs to Weatherbug to who knows what else. I first ran Spybot just to check and it found 8 different forms of spyware. I then had Ad Aware check things and it found 130 different infected items which interestingly enough were different from what Spybot had found. A perfect reason for running both programs on an infected system. The run of Spy Sweeper at this point was disappointing as it locked up two times in a row on the exact same file. I then proceeded to shut down the computer, clean up temporary files, and run a thorough scandisk to see if there were any disk problems. Nothing there. Another run of Spy Sweeper and again it locks up on a different file, this time a .swf object after finding 95 items including 30 adware problems and a Trojan horse program, not to mention about 60 tracking cookies. Webroot’s solution to this is, after an email to them, to run the program in Safe Mode and with all that was on this computer starting automatically, that probably should have been the first thing to do.
I like the way the program works and integrates with your computer. I think support information on their web site could be a little better to include crash problems and dealing with very infected systems and I was disappointed when it locked up on me. So far, I do like what I have seen. The program costs $30 from Best Buy and others, and the one year subscription is just $30. You can download a 30 day trial version from their website at www.webroot.com
Take it With You
As I walked through one of the events at CES, ShowStoppers, I ran into a company selling no computer equipment but a service. Infone, www.infone.com, bills itself as a personal assistant with an interesting twist. It’s a good deal. To me it is like having a concierge at the other end of the phone no matter where you are. Being in Las Vegas, you think nothing of tipping someone $2 to $10 for giving you advice, giving you directions, helping with tickets, or even opening the door but this service is less than a $1 for a 15 minute call. They will make hotel and restaurant reservations for you, even give you driving directions if you get lost. If you upload your contact database to them, they will even call it up for you to check contacts, your calendar, and even check your mail. This is all done through real people at over 31 call centers around the country. I am looking forward to trying this out when I head to Florida next month. They have a free trial and you can do it online or call their 888-411-1111 number.
More on Networked Storage
Quite a few companies at CES were showing off network storage devices for the home and small office. At the Alien Invasion press event, I saw Buffalo Technology’s, www.buffalotech.com, version of the unit called the TeraStation. It connects to your Ethernet network and has gigabit speed capability for high speed data transfer. It also has four installed IDE 250 Gig drives that can be configured in a number of different ways. Individually, mirrored, spanned out to 1 terabyte as a single drive, or as a single 750gig Raid 5 drive. It also comes with four USB2 ports for additional storage or use as a print server to create your own network attached printer. Like several other machines we have seen, it uses a Linux type front end to manage the device to be either a network storage device and backup system or if you make it part of your home theater, gives you one terabyte of home theater storage space. Should be available February for $1299.
Another company with a different approach to home network storage is Mirra, www.mirra.com. The Mirra Personal Server looks to be the perfect solution for a company or home office needing to make sure that files are continuously backed up. In this approach, you save a file on your computer in a Mirra folder and it immediately saves it to the server. In fact, want those folders available on other computers, Mirra will also do that for you automatically and seamlessly. This is slick stuff. It gets even better if you travel, connect to the internet, you can access and update those same files through a secure internet link. It even keeps track of the different versions of the same file you back up so that if something goes wrong, you can restore an earlier version. For home users, you can also setup to automatically synchronize your pictures to a web site for shared viewing. Available at CompUSA, the 120gig version is $399.
A third entry to this field is from Maxtor, www.maxtor.com. Their Shared Storage Solutions is also an external drive attached to your network to allow you to centralize and organize photos and music and data on your home network. Like the TeraStation above, it has two USB2 ports to allow you to add storage or work as a print server for your network. It connects to your network through its single Ethernet port and with the software, you are set to go in just minutes. Organizing files is easy as well because of the Maxtor drag and sort feature that automatically sorts your music, photo, and data files as it identifies more than 100 different windows files types. Available this spring, look for the 200gig version for $299.
Quick items from the CES show floor that looked pretty useful or neat. Alestron, www.alestron.com had a biometric fingerprint USB drive called the BioSecure Fingokey. A truly way to keep your information private.
How about a backup unit that will cover your home entertainment center, computers, and all the equipment and cables that come with them including cable, DSL, phone line, satellite, and Ethernet. The APC model is S-15 and will be available this summer for around $1499. www.apc.com.
Beyond, www.beyondconnectedhome.com , comes up with a Digital Video Camera and portable entertainment system all in one little box called the e:Pods. Digital camcorder, still camera, music player, voice recorder, web camera, and file storage built in with an SD memory slot makes this a truly fun portable unit. About $249.
To keep your computer really cool, you need one of Zalman’s www.zalmanusa.com Resorator water systems. For about $239, you too can have a water cooled system running beside your desk. More practical for the rest of us though might be their new line of Ultra Quiet CPU Coolers with variable speed fans making for a much quieter system. The new CNPS7700 has a much larger copper heat sink and is really quiet. About $49.
Want a cool system to put that into? Thermaltake, www.thermaltake.com has a series of Aluminum cases that are very good looking, full of features, easy to maintain and upgrade, and will keep your system cool. Their Shark is around $169 and can be found at PC Clubhouse if one is near you.
Did you know that there is a difference in batteries? I got corralled by someone at the Energizer booth and I am impressed with the performance of their new e2 Lithium batteries. They handle extreme temperatures better so you can leave spares anywhere not to mention the fact they come with a 15 year shelf life, a third lighter than ordinary alkaline batteries, and best of all, hold their power better to give you much longer life in a digital camera. They claim up to seven times longer than normal alkalines. Tell you what, these will go into my bag for my next overseas trip. http://www.energizer.com/. Also take a look at their compact charger with 4 2500 miliamp AA batteries for just $20.
Robert Sanborn is a technology writer for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at email@example.com
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