Technicool: Microsoft's Anti-Spyware Program Put to the Test

By: Jeremy Pate
By: Jeremy Pate

Carla likes to surf the Internet. Unfortunately, all that Internet surfing has resulted in her computer becoming infected with spyware.

Spyware is a name for a program that disguises itself as a legitimate, safe program, but when you install it on your computer, it winds up doing more damage than good. Some of the damage you'll notice, like if your Internet browser's home page gets hijacked. You'll also notice your computer is running a lot slower.

Some of the damage spyware does you don't notice. Some programs actually keep track of where you surf on the Internet, then send that information to a third party. This is a serious invasion of privacy.

Spyware goes by a couple of names. It's also sometimes known as malware or ad-ware. Whatever you call it, it can do nasty things to your computer.

In an effort to battle the increasing problems with spyware, Microsoft recently released its own version of an anti-spyware program. You can find at this web page: www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx.

Having used other spyware programs in the past like Pest Patrol, Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy, I was very interested in Microsoft's Anti-Spyware program. It's still in beta form, which means it hasn't been released in "official' form, but it's still a nice program.

I put it on Carla Kneeland's computer to see how good it really is. Carla's computer has a bunch of spyware on it, so I knew it would be a really good test.

The results surprised me, somewhat. It found 41 instances of spyware on her computer. After running a scan, it gives you the option to quarantine, remove or ignore any program which it considers spyware. Generally, I choose to delete any programs that turn up as a result of the scan. This is also where it gives you a list of programs it has found. Use this list to educate yourself on which spyware programs to look out for.

The beauty of Microsoft's Anti-Spyware program is it makes identifying and removing spyware nice and easy, and that's good, especially if you're not a computer expert.

A couple of notes concerning Microsoft's Anti-Spyware program: you'll have to verify that the version of Windows that you're using (Windows XP, Windows 2000, etc) is authentic.

The program will ask you to input a long number. You don't have to do this. When you're downloading the program, just click on where it says "No, do not validate Windows at this time, but take me to the download." Then Windows will validate itself automatically.
Why Microsoft put in the option of having to validate Windows is beyond me. I know it's part of the companies move to crackdown on pirated copies of Windows, but still. If it's going to give you the option to bypass the "authentication" step, why put it in there to start with?

The program takes longer to run on older computers and computers that have a lot on the hard drive. On my computer at the house, it takes it about 40 minutes to do a complete scan. On my computer here at work, it takes about two minutes. Keep this in mind.

Also, when you load it onto your computer, it will give you the option to do automatic updates for the program. I suggest you do this. Also, I'd suggest sending the info the program gathers from your computer to Microsoft (the program will give you the option to do this automatically).

You also want to take advantage of the programs "privacy" tools. You'll find this under where it says "Advanced Tools" in the upper right hand corner. If you're concerned about your privacy, you can use it to erase a lot of your internet tracks.

One last note: use the programs "Real-time protection" capabilities, so if, in the future, a spyware program tries to install itself on your computer, you'll know then and there so you can take the proper steps to avoid it.

For a list of common spyware programs, go to the following Web page: www.shelbycs.org/technology/spyware.


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