Sleuthing: Detect and Remove Adware

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Author and Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis said, “Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.”

The same guiding tenet applies to advertising software, or adware. Advertising companies create adware, which often appears on your PC as a pop-up. Those pop-ups may be responsible for some of the unexplained advertising programs you see on your computer desktop.

Advertising companies hope to generate interest, and later, revenue from customers who receive those pop-ups and unexplained programs. Adware boasts the tendency to disguise itself in the Windows registry as a normal application, so your anti-virus software may not detect it, making it difficult to find and remove. Some clues that adware may be present on your computer include a barrage of pop-up ads, a hijacked browser (a browser that takes you to sites other than those you type into the address box) and a sudden or repeated change in your computer’s Internet home page—or even new and unexpected toolbars magically appearing. Your computer also may feel sluggish or slow down when attempting to open or close programs. Since adware may be bundled with spyware, it could pose a security threat to your computer.

Luckily, there is no shortage of available software to detect and remove both spyware and adware. One such program is STOPzilla. This handy program offers a real-time approach to protecting Internet users’ privacy and insulating them from the inconvenient, invasive and often harmful results of spyware and adware. STOPzilla uses advanced suppression technology, rather than extraction, to effectively quarantine and neutralize adware, stop pop-ups and counteract spyware-monitoring tools designed to record Internet activity and behavior. For more information, visit www.stopzilla.com.

If money is tight, Ad-Aware SE Personal by Lavasoft (see Figure 1) is a convenient freeware tool for personal use on Windows platform computers. It scans your memory, registry and drives for known advertising and tracking components in the form of surreptitious adware and spyware programs. Ad-Aware can help you determine what threats these pose, as well as remove them from your system. For more information, visit www.lavasoftusa.com.

Microsoft Windows Anti-Spyware is a relative newcomer to the spyware/adware removal market. Currently in beta format, this freeware product is based on the former Giant Anti-Spyware product. Anti-Spyware notifies you as soon as it detects a threat, and it hunts down and removes both spyware and adware from your system, eliminating most of them even before they’re able to install. Your notification includes specific information about the offender, and you will have the opportunity to delete or quarantine questionable items. Anti-Spyware defends the specific areas of computer systems that are known to be the targets of malware: add menu items, settings, home page, HOSTS file, etc. For more information, visit www.microsoft.com/downloads/.

As an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you should always keep your operating system and Web browser software up-to-date. Only download free software from sites that you know and trust. While it is tempting to download free software, such as games and file-sharing programs, these programs may cause more harm than good. As if that’s not bad enough, many of those so-called “free” software applications bundle spyware and adware along with the gratis program.

Here’s some bottom-line advice. Never install software without knowing exactly what it is. Always take the time to read end-user license agreements (EULA) before downloading. Be skeptical if the EULA is either hard to find or difficult to understand. Finally, always make sure your browser security settings are set high enough to detect or prevent unauthorized downloads.

Douglas Schweitzer, A+, Network+, i-Net+, CIW, is an Internet security specialist and the author of “Securing the Network From Malicious Code” and “Incident Response: Computer Forensics Toolkit.” He can be reached at dschweitzer@certmag.com.

 

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