Greetings to U! As we head into spring, I want to take this opportunity to address your security questions and let you know how you can effectively safeguard your computer. I’m also going to discuss how to choose an e–mail service that will meet your evolving needs. Thanks for your helpful feedback and interesting questions. We look forward to hearing from more of you. Please e–mail me any Internet–related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer them in upcoming columns. –Geoff Ralston, Chief Product Officer, Yahoo! 1. I have been hearing a lot about spyware and adware and I don’t understand what the dangers are or how I can protect myself. Can you provide some insight? Although the terms “spyware” and “adware” are often used interchangeably, and in fact, sometimes apply to the same program, they are different. Spyware refers to software that runs on a computer in order to gather information about the computer’s user without their consent or knowledge. Adware is typically a program that displays advertising through pop–up windows while a person is surfing the Web. There is even a similar category of unwanted software called “Scumware” which is software that quietly modifies your online experience by, for example, changing the destination of links on a page. From unintentional downloads off the Internet, installation of software from disks, or through viruses and worms, spyware and adware can maliciously find their way onto your computer. Worse, their installation almost always happens without your knowledge or consent. All adware is not created equal. In some cases software makers make an explicit and well disclosed deal with their users to show ads in exchange for free use of the software. Other adware is more malicious and can
find its way onto your computer with no clear acceptance on your part. These programs then show annoying and disruptive ads, the source of which can be difficult if not impossible to determine. Spyware is even more insidious, since normally there is no indication that it is running as it tracks and records your online surfing habits and then relays that information to advertisers or others. The best way to identify whether or not spyware and adware are installed on your computer is to run and regularly update anti–spyware programs, in conjunction with anti–virus software. It’s also important to verify the security settings on your browser so programs are not installed without your permission and you should always carefully read pop–up warnings and investigate all programs before downloading or installing them. Always read the fine print! The good news is that many excellent anti–spyware and anti–adware programs are available for free, including the one distributed with the Yahoo! Toolbar (at http://toolbar.yahoo.com). You may be wondering whether adware and spyware are legal, but the truth is, there are no laws against them. However, Congress is getting closer every day to passing legislation to pose additional penalties on those who create and distribute spyware. The U.S. House passed two separate bills in October 2004.Ê One would increase penalties on spyware purveyors to include jail time. The other seeks to give consumers more obvious notices to make sure they know what they are downloading. Yahoo!, Microsoft, and eBay among others, are supporters of such legislation. In addition, a new California law aimed at curbing spyware has gone into effect on January 1, 2005.
2. What is the difference between viruses, Trojan horses and worms and how can I protect my computer from them? These terms refer to different types of malicious computer programs. Computer viruses hide within other programs or documents and are spread through user actions (e.g. opening an attachment). They come in different forms, and you don’t need to install a program for your computer to be infected. For example, some viruses are spread when you open a word–processing document. Once your computer is infected, the virus may attach itself to outgoing files or may be sent as an e–mail attachment. A Trojan horse is a program that disguises itself as another program. Similar to viruses, these programs are hidden and usually cause an unwanted effect, such as installing a back door in your system that can be used by hackers. They differ from viruses because they typically are not designed to replicate like a virus. Worms spread without any user interaction, typically by exploiting a flaw in popular software. Once activated, they generally use the Internet or your LAN (local network) to proliferate and often take advantage of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Outlook Express e–mail programs. There are many ways you can protect yourself and your computer against these malicious programs. First and foremost, it is imperative to use anti–virus software. Everyone should install anti–virus software and it should be run regularly. Download anti–virus software updates frequently. It only takes a couple of minutes to download and they are usually posted weekly on anti–virus sites such as Symantec. Continued on Pg 12