What is Spyware?
Portland computer repair technician in Oregon from 1997 to 2002, the majority of my new small office and home customer service calls were due to Spyware (A.K.A. AdWare) problems. These days, I'm an SEO consultant, but I used to make my living driving out
to their locations and fixing spyware problems, charging travel time,
and hourly rates nearing $100 per hour.
Spyware exists to track and monitor
your Internet use, and then report back to marketing companies with
marketing companies then use your web-surfing habits, your cookies, and
other gathered information to “personalize” the popup ads, ad banners, and
even your junk e-mail.
Spyware causes major computer performance
issues, limits internet access, changes your home page, generates spam,
and even causes Windows crashes. If you're reading this because you have
some odd problem, then you almost certainly have have spyware on your
There are other types of spyware too, that record
keystrokes and passwords etc. but those are not commonly found or easily
available to the public. For this article, I’m speaking of the spyware
known as Adware.
I think any software that transmits any information about me or my computer use without
my knowledge should be illegal. Unfortunately, at this point in time, it’s
not illegal, and in fact spyware use by advertisers seems to be on the
rise. Major Banks and companies all over the world are supporting this
awful form of advertising.
Names like Doubleclick, DSSAgent, Comet
Cursor, Flycast, Gator, NewDot, OnFlow, Flyswat, TSadbot, HotBar, Web3000
and Webhancer, and dozens more are familiar to many people.
I’ve seen these names in hundreds of computers, usually in the msconfig
Sometimes I’ve seen them in the “details” button of an
“illegal operation” or in the description of an “Invalid page fault”.
Still other times they pop up as errors when first booting your computer,
telling you there was some sort of some .dll problem. The point is,
there’s plenty of this junk out there. and you need to get rid of it.
Where does it come from?
Well in most cases, you downloaded and
installed the spyware yourself. Not intentionally, of course, but adware/spyware
is an unfortunate byproduct of most “FREE” software downloads, like
Bonzai Buddy, CuteFTP, Download Demon, Kaaza, NBC Quick Click, Real Player
and…well, the list just goes on and on and on.
If you just love to
download and try out different free software programs because they sound
cool, then I would practically guarantee that your machine is infected.
It’s just a sad but true fact, that most of the free software you can find
is actually supported by Spyware/Adware.
Other times, this spyware can be even
bundled with software that’s actually on a CD. A good example of this is
DSSagent, which comes with several Mattel and Broderbund programs. I
would also encourage you to be suspicious of any CD software that comes
free out of a cereal box or free with a kids fast food meal. Do you really
think you’re just getting some free entertainment for your toddlers? Do
you expect quality software out of a cereal box?
Then don't install
it! Run like the wind!
Since 2003, there are even websites that
will add spyware to your your computer just by visiting their website, and it
wasn't until Windows XP SP2 in August of 2004 that Microsoft made an
attempt to stop it.
What harm can it do?
You mean in addition to slowing down your
machine, taking up hard drive space, causing you to have bootup errors,
illegal operations and invalid page faults? Besides sharing your family
web surfing habits with marketers, and causing you to receive even more Internet pop-up windows and junk e-mail than you already do? Oh, none I
can think of. It’s fine, really.
How can I get rid of it?
Now we come to the meat of the issue.
Manually removing them is a tedious, time consuming pain in the neck, and
not always 100% successful. Fortunately, in most cases, you're not going
to have to pay someone like me to come to your computer, only to get
re-infected a few weeks later.
There are software programs you can buy
that will detect and remove spyware, going through your system file by
file, and rooting out these programs like the viruses they really are.
I've tried them all, but
CNET Declared CounterSpy #1 In it's 2008 AntiSpyware Top 10 to
Counterspy, rating it the best of all the products. at only $19.99, it's a
great value too. You can get Counterspy
here (In the interest of full disclosure, this is my affiliate link, but
please don't hesitate to try it)
There are also…what else? Free versions!
Unfortunately, as of this writing, none of the free ones will protect or
clean like they once did. Okay, if you insist, two very popular free ones are
called Adaware and Spybot. Adaware, is available at
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/. and Spybot, (not quite as easy to figure out)
is at http://www.safer-networking.org
Just like your Antivirus software, both programs need to be
updated regularly upon use. Used in tandem, and updated regularly, you can
protect yourself nearly as well, but you're really better off buying
Counterspy. $20 bucks, install it, and forget it. Unless of course you
actually want to LEARN something too! If so, read on...
I have known about the existence of Spyware
programs for a long time, but until I had the trouble removing some on my
own machine in 2000, I had never really done much research about it.
this article (originally in 2001), I was amazed to find out how much spyware is really out
there. Today, in mid-2005, it's downright scary. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, then it
probably is; and with most free software, the price can actually be pretty
Wow. I got hold of something really awful,
called Huntbar. It added a toolbar to IE, changed my home page, and
generally wreaked havoc, making my address bar disappear. Even AdAware
wouldn't detect and get rid of it! It was automatically installed just by
visiting a certain URL. Norton AV script blocking etc. didn't stop it.
Instead of just running a system restore
with XP, I decided to track it down. What a mistake!. It took me over an
hour to get rid of, but here's the solution -
Believe it or not, it was easy. I went to
http://www.huntbar.com and then to the top help link - scroll all the way
to the bottom, and there are two uninstalls to download. I ran them both
and the Huntbar toolbar, Fastseeker etc. were both gone after closing and
reopening Internet Explorer.
Woohoo! These people should be shot.
It's now reasonable to assume that 9 out of
10 computers have spyware on your machine unless they have no internet
connection. I have NEVER run spybot on a machine and not found something.
Even my own. Learn Spybot. Run it weekly.
It's out of control. Now there are certain
spyware applications that will just reinstall themselves after you remove
them with the spyware removal software. They usually do this by putting an
.exe file in the startup of your Windows program, like Wintools. Others
like the notorious hijacker about:blank edit your registry so you can't
get rid of it. The spyware problem has grown to such enormous proportions,
that there are many people unable to use their computers. Nearly half of
all my service calls are spyware related.
Other software programs are available to
help you win the fight, but they're not that simple to figure out. I
routinely have to use
CoolWeb Shredder, and
to get rid of some of these programs, as well as
AdAware, and Spybot too.
Sometimes all three are necessary on a badly infested machine. Once I'm
clean I always install immunize with the latest version of Spybot and then
I install WinPatrol
to keep things running smoothly.
Everyone had the About:Blank spyware problem
this summer. It was the worst I've ever seen. It turns your home page to
an ad portal and it reads about:blank in the address bar. The first time I
saw it, I spent nearly two hours on it. Unable to remove it, I edited the
registry to redirect the browser to Google instead of that page, but it
wasn't gone. At least the computer was useable. A few days later, I found
some manual instructions using the CD and recovery console. After that,
AboutBuster was released, and now, in September, there are several removal
tools. If the removal tool doesn't work, then format and reinstall
Windows, unless you're comfortable in the recovery console booting from
your Windows CD. Once you get your computer clean (or format
and reinstall Windows) run Spybot and Adaware regularly, and use Winpatrol
to keep the junk out.
redirect to 188.8.131.52 ieautosearch -
Unbelievable. This is a new one with no name yet. After two hours of
trying everything under the sun, I gave up, and am waiting it out.
someone will solve it soon, I'm sure, but here's the problem...
After all normal and thorough removal
spyware options, even using Firefox, the IE window pops open, displaying
various advertising, and I cannot get rid of it.
I only found one reference on the web, and I did all that was there, and
even tried manual registry editing too, removing all .dll references.
Then, at reboot, EVEN IN SAFE MODE those .dlls I can't remove are
actually renamed to something else.
As near as I can tell, there's a process at startup generating random
.dll names , 3 of which can't be changed or deleted because they're in
use. This one has me really PO'd.
I guess it's a Look2me thing, but even their own removal download finds
no "installations of their software). I call it an "infection".
This is the offending entry in the magic hosts file...
When it's found with Hijack This, even in safe mode, you can scan,
delete, rescan, and it's back that fast, regenerating right before your
Also, the hosts file cannot be write protected, and when I delete it,
this @#$% thing recreates it instantly. You can watch it right before
your eyes. Scotty the WinPatrol Windows watchdog had to be muzzled.
These are the #@$%^ idiots right here that created it... Eblocks.com
Any input is welcome...Keep your eye on this post for more...
(The above problem was
finally fixed in late January 2005)