Letter #2: Legacy Windows' spyware weaknesses
Reader: Bill Hauck
Hunt Valley, Md.
Environment: System Source is the largest Baltimore, Md., provider of computer sales, rentals, training, network configuration and Web site design. For clients, we support between 30 and 40 Windows 95, 98, 2000 and XP machines.
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Spyware dilemma: At one university hospital, the night cleaning staff had complete access to the Windows 95 and 98 machines because the logon could be bypassed. They proceeded to download everything including porn, which was an embarrassment to the legitimate users. Malware issues on Windows 2000 and XP are not as bad because those machines require a network logon, which the cleaners did not have. However, those computers will become infected when legitimate users click on pop-up ads and free toolbar junk.
Educating users on spyware is an ongoing process. Most people don't understand that they are creating their own problems by clicking on free offers. I remind them that nothing is free on the Internet, especially when it comes to unsolicited pop-ups.
Antispyware solution: Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, Spybot-Search & Destroy, Ie-spyad2
I have had extensive experience using both Ad-Aware and Spybot. What one misses the other finds. I run both programs simultaneously and I am pleased with the result on Windows 95 and 98 machines. It also works well on Windows 2000 and XP.
Since legacy Windows machines are harder to lock down, I've taken the proactive approach of installing Ie-spayad2, which prevents the browser from opening the more notorious malware sites. As fast as we close these sites down, the malware writers open new ones, so Ie-spyad2 creators update the program regularly. It's not a perfect solution, but one that keeps the systems running.
Bill's initial reaction to testing Microsoft's AntiSpyware (beta): I tried it and rate it very highly. It did not remove everything, but it clead about 90% on the first try. Spybot picked up another couple of programs. The Microsoft program shows all the affected hidden registry keys that the other programs don't show. I'm impressed and will use it as a first pass when cleaning machines.
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