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AFRICABIZ VOL 1 - ISSUE : 24
APRIL 15 - MAY 14, 2001
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Editor: Dr. Bienvenu-Magloire Quenum
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BEWARE OF FREEWARE! THEY CAN JEOPARDIZE YOUR SYSTEM OVERALL SECURITY

- Questions: What that's again? Beware of freeware? And what else? Now! Are you hinting that one should avoid using freeware?

- Replies: No that is not my intention. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that some freeware may be just SPYWARE. And furthermore they may be a threat to the overall security of your computer. They can "create" security holes by keeping your computer's ports opened to vicious attacks by all sorts of malicious viruses and Trojan horses.

HOW CAN THAT BE?

That's the right one. How can that be?

From time to time, I used to fire up WINDOWS COMMANDER to scrutinize and remove redundant files / folders from my system in partition C:\Windows\*.*. Files and folders in the TEMP directories particularly. One day I was astonished and baffled to remark files (.exe) I did not at all remembered downloading and installing and some peculiar folders. I was really puzzled. Where did they come from. And then, surfing the Web, I came across a small utility / freeware which claims that its role is to identify spyware. I made some search about spyware.

WHAT IS A SPYWARE?

A spyware - also known as "adware" - is a hidden software program nested deeply inside a system which transmits user information, via the Internet, to advertisers.

Spyware are introduced - as Trojan Horses by some Freeware programs - into your system without you knowing anything about the introduction. That's the way some Freeware programmers pay themselves back selling your surfing behaviors and "tastes" to advertisers - in addition to the "legal" advertisement banners you freely accepted with the freeware when you punch the "Accept" button of the "Disclaimer". They made it true the popular saying: "There is no such thing as free meal"

These Freeware / spyware combination store your personal information somewhere on your hard drive, and routinely transfer these data via the Internet back to advertisers in exchange for more advertising.

Now I am sure that you've got it and see clearly why you should beware of freeware!


USING ADD / REMOVE TO GET RID OF SPYWARE IS NOT ENOUGH

So you decide to kill the plot and use Windows Control Panel's Add / Remove to cleanup your system from all these nested Trojan Horses? Poor of you. Windows Add / Remove is useless. Yes useless against the "snakes". The spyware will remain on your computer; often buried deeply within the Windows System Registry or nested into a hidden / secret folder bearing a simple cookie! Yes Spyware's creators are resourceful.

HOW TO REMOVE SPYWARE?

Detecting and deleting spyware requires additional software.

Fortunately there is always a savior around. Just search and you shall find. You have many options at your disposal:

    • 1- The simple solution of checking a freeware to be sure that it is not hiding a spyware before download and installing it. Many utilities are available. I use a freeware called SPY CHASER by Camtech available here. It features a database of more than 700 freeware / spyware.

      However this is a static solution. What about the spyware already nested inside your system and performing their dirty job?

    • 2 -There come in a more sophisticated alternative which cleanse all "the beasts" from your harddrive and the registry.

      A free, non-advertiser sponsored product called OPTtOut here available from Gibson Research Corporation, will identify several programs considered to be spyware. OPTOut scans your hard drive and give you the opportunity to remove spyware or monitor their activities in and out your system.

      I personally use the utility from lavasoft.de called Ad-AWARE. The first time I installed it and performed the scanning of my computer I was amazed to find out that 19 spyware were nicely nested - 10 being comfortably "seated" inside the Registry with adequate Registry's keys!

      However, this alternative of cleansing all the "beasts" from your hard drive and or the Registry is not a radical solution either.

      As your data had been already transferred, the "spy agencies" out there on the Internet will keep on sending cookies. These cookies may find their way easily into your system when you are surfing. Even if you have a firewall installed. And you will need to do the cleansing often and often.

    • 3- The sentinel alternative: an utility which stands as a guardian and doing a permanent screening job over the several ports of your computer. It stops non-authorized "leaves" and send incoming intruders packing back to their sources.

      I use AD-WARE + from lavasoft.de which features a small add on to the free version of AD-AWARE. It is called AD-WATCH.

      Ad-watch is a vigilant which makes it sure that any "bad" cookie which sneaks its way into your system is automatically removed. And to make sure that I remain the absolute regent of my kingdom I added ZONEALARM

      ZoneAlarm is a freeware, non-spyware, non-advertiser sponsored product. It monitors all Internet traffics in and out your computer. Depending on the configuration you opt for, it is capable of stopping any unauthorized transmission of data leaving your computer; and blocking any "ping" or other outside malicious attacks engineered by hackers. Click here to get it.

TAKE MEASURES TO PROTECT YOUR SYSTEM

If you are concerned about the security of your system (not to speak of the confidentiality of your surfing habits), you should install these useful tools above described in order to avoid troubles.

Since I have them installed, my firewall - ZoneAlarm - performs more efficiently.

Trojan horses introduced by spyware can do a lot of damage to your system. Even if most of spyware do not intrinsically represent a serious threat to your system, some of them can act as "Gate Opener" for more dreadful Computer worms, Viruses and powerful Trojan horses.

These dreadful "beasts" will enter your system more easily through ports kept opened by the spyware and perform havoc on your machine. They can scramble information on your computer's hard drive, e-mail threats and confidential information to every one listed in your mail system's Address Book, or scan your computer system for credit-card numbers and other kinds of financial information.

HOWEVER

Be advised that removing a spyware may sometimes destroy the related freeware's performance. The freeware may stop performing its "normal" job.

The choice is yours. Security and Confidentiality or Free Meal?

FREEBIE


KNOW YOUR SYSTEM. USE A POWERFUL SYSTEM ANALYZER

Sound odd? Of course that you do know your system through the brochures and documentation given to you when you purchased it.

Furthermore with 1- Start 2-Settings 3-Control Panel 4- System and 6- Devices Manager you can have more information about all the components of your working tool.

YOU CAN GET INTO TROUBLE WHEN YOU UPGRADE

Yes. But what about upgrading the Operation System from Windows 95 to Windows 98 for instance on a bargain computer
(which lack the precious documentation) and finding yourself with a monitor displaying only a meager choice of 2 to 16 colors (yes! two to sixteen colors' choice only). A monitor screen with blotted gray and miscellaneous awful colors?

I can testify that that occurrence is a possibility when upgrading from Windows 95 to Windows 98 on a computer without documentation.

After performing the upgrade, the Start strings' sequence above mentioned may give you a vague description of the Display Adapters: Standard PCI Graphics Card.

What do you do then? How do you recover the striking full True Color that your monitor was displaying under Windows 95? If you 1 -Fire up the System logo in the Control Panel 2- Highlight the Monitor logo 3 - Choose Properties 4- Hit Drivers and finally 5- Punch Update Drivers, Windows 98 will show a message that "the best drivers had already been installed" for the identified
Standard PCI Graphics Card.

So if you rely only on Windows 98 to troubleshoot the Monitor awful color display, you are stuck!

Even if the above mentioned example won't happen to you (why bother with a bargain computer...) you may need to tweak with your System.ini or any other system files to fine tune your computer for PC-to-PC or PC-to-Phone communication for example. And unless you have a perfect practice of the DOS Command Line (which means that you are the generation before Windows 3.1 and the like) you cannot easily find the system.ini and system.bat Etc.

YOU NEED A POWERFUL SYSTEM ANALYZER

All that to bring to your attention that, one way or another, you need to have an intrinsic knowledge of of your computer.

You cannot rely only on the diagnosis tools available through the Control Panel. They may prove insufficient when you are in trouble and searching for solutions.

In order to save time, to avoid headaches and fine tune your system when you do need it, it is highly advisable to install a third party Diagnosis tool.

A good third party diagnosis tool should be able to display the trade marks of all the components of your system and other useful characteristics.

Knowing trade marks of components will help you troubleshoot your system when you need it. With the third party system analyzer I installed I succeeded in resolving very quickly the Display Adapter's enigma. The
Standard PCI Graphics Card turns out to be a good performer Matrox Millenium II. I got its Windows 98 drivers from the manufacturer' site and that is: the monitor is now displaying brilliant and striking True Color with several choices of resolutions.

PLENTY OF DIAGNOSIS TOOLS ARE AVAILABLE

There are plenty of diagnosis tools available over the Internet.

The best one is SISOFT SANDRA - A system analyzer combined with a powerful diagnostic and reporting Assistant.

SANDRA provides a set of tools for diagnostic, benchmarking, and performance tune-ups for different hardware devices and subsystems of your computer.

The FREE version is already a must have. The professional version (you need to shed something in the range of US$ 29 is a real wonder) Click here to enjoy SANDRA.

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