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Home PC users: Avoid the spyware blues

Information Assurance, Defenders of the Domain

Information Assurance, Defenders of the Domain

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Malware such as viruses and spyware is an increasing threat to home computer systems, the 50th Space Communications Squadron’s Information Assurance Office warned this week. 

While the Schriever network has several layers of protection between its computers and the Internet, users at home don’t have the same luxury, said Tech. Sgt. Mark Gousse, IA office. 

Spyware comes in a wide variety of species, from programs that throw pop-up ads onto the screen to keylogging software that records a user’s keystrokes, including any personal information he may enter, Sergeant Gousse said. 

“I’ve seen systems so badly infected that the computer throws pop-up ads until the whole system locks up,” he said. 

The local area network helpdesk strictly controls who has administrative access to Schriever PCs and when administrative access can be used. Home users should follow this lead if they can. Without administrative privileges, most spyware cannot install itself onto a computer. Home users running Windows XP or Windows 2000 can set up restricted accounts on their PCs, then use administrator accounts only when they need to install a program. 

Most antivirus software applications include some anti-spyware capability. Microsoft has also released an anti-spyware program called Windows Defender, available at www.microsoft.com under “Windows Defender Beta 2.” 

People should also make sure they know where the software they are downloading or installing is coming from and make sure they can trust the sites they’re browsing, Sergeant Gousse said. 

“Be safe with what you’re doing online. It’s a shame that a tool originally developed for sharing information has been exploited and turned into the largest crime scene in the world, but that’s exactly what has happened,” he said. 

Someone whose computer becomes infected still has options. Many of the antivirus companies’ Web sites have specialized tools to remove spyware. In addition, some antivirus software can be booted straight off the CD, bypassing whatever damage spyware has done to the operating system. In a worst-case scenario, a user whose computer is infected may have to wipe his hard drive clean and start over. 

“But before that, use every resource you have,” Sergeant Gousse said. “Take it to a computer store or call a neighbor or a ‘computer geek.’”