For those who are not familiar with spyware,
it allows online businesses and advertisers to track your Internet
habits so that they can send customized e-mail and pop-up ads
to your computer. It can be removed by running any one of several
programs. The problem is that you may not even know it is there.
Recently, I was performing my bi-weekly computer maintenance,
which includes defragmenting my computer’s hard drive,
scanning for viruses, and running Ad-Aware, a program which
finds and deletes spyware on one’s computer.
I discovered 35 pieces of spyware on my computer, one of which
was attached to my registry keys. This meant that somewhere,
someone was locked onto my computer and was waiting for me to
type credit card numbers and passwords. After deleting the spyware,
I ran Ad-Aware again and discovered that it was still there.
Fortunately, Ad-Aware showed me where this spyware program was
located on my computer and I was able to go to the folder and
delete it manually. That night I customized Ad-Aware to scan
my computer whenever I rebooted.
The following morning Ad-Aware sent me a message informing
that someone had tried to hijack my browser over night. If
this person could have used my browser to explore the Internet,
allowing them to visit questionable Web sites, perform illegal
actions, and to use my accounts for online services such as Amazon.com,
to make purchases. These actions of course would all show up
under my browser history (not theirs). They could also change
my homepage and redirect my browser to visit Web sites of their
Once again, Ad-Aware was able to direct me to the culprit.
This time the spy- ware was attached to a toolbar on my browser
. . a toolbar which had mysteriously appeared only a few weeks
before after I updated programs on my computer. I was able to
delete the toolbar from my files and have not had any problems
Some people confuse “cokies” with spyware, although
the two are quite different. “Cookies” are dropped
onto one’s system whenever you visit a Web site. This allows
the Web site to be customized according to the user’s preferences.
For example, National Public Radio’s (NPR) Web site uses “cookies” to
help determine what audio player a user prefers. Spyware on the
other hand is used to send annoying pop-up ads and can also be
used to record passwords (www.npr.org).
When it comes to browser hijackers, not all of them have malicious
intent. AOL, for example, is well known for hijacking browsers
and changing homepages, as well as adding folders containing
Web sites they want you to visit when you download any of their
software. The changes made by AOL are easily reversible. Other
services such as Yahoo! also add folders and files to computers,
especially after downloading instant messengers.
The most obvious signs that your computer has been hijacked
include new files saved under your favorites list, as well
as new homepages
that appear, even after they have been removed and the computer
has been rebooted.
If you’re browser has been hijacked, a program called Hijack
This (available at: http://tomcoyote.com/hjt/) can be download
for free and will help you get your browser back. It also offers
a walkthrough for first-time users.
To prevent hijacking, spywareinfo.com suggests that computer
users drop Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE). MSIE is known
to have many security flaws which allow hijackers to slip through.
Mozilla, Firefox, and Opera are equivelants to MSIE, and because
they do not allow access to Windows as MSIE does, and hijackers
can’t enter. For various reasons, many people still have
to use MSIE. In this case, users should frequent the Microsoft
Web site for regular browser updates.
Are HPU computers protected? According to Tom Ku of HPU’s
Information Technology Systems, the University has two programs
to help protect against spyware. The first is D3, which is used
on all lab systems. Whenever a computer in the labs is rebooted,
all recent downloads, including spyware, are immediately erased
from the computer. System Management Server, a Microsoft product,
is used on all faculty and administrative computers. This program
allows ITS to monitor all computers on this network, as well
as any potentially dangerous downloads.
To protect your computer, there are several spyware programs
online to choose from. Ad-Aware and Spybot are the two most
popular and are free to download. They offer free updates
For more information on securing your browser from hijackers,