Hackers, Viruses, Spyware and Malware

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Knowledge and resources for you to use keep your computer clean

There has been so many scares, both justified and not, of internet threats that will take you computer hostage and destroy your system, burn your dinner, and take your car out for a joyride, that I feel it's time to speak up and share some info that is scattered around the forum, in one single place. So here we go.

Is the internet scary? Yeah, it can be. Are there threats out there that can cause serious problems? Yes, there are. Are you hopelessly at the mercy of these internet terrorist? Hell no.

As I see it, these threats fall under three umbrella topics:

  • Hackers - These being people that hack into your PC and just seize control of it.

  • Viruses - These being little rogue programs that can do anything from making a popup come on your screen every April 1st saying "ha ha" to destroying your operating system, and all things in between.

  • Spyware and malware - which are goofy little scripts, apps or services that install themselves on your hard drive from unethical advertisers on web sites or programs that contain them.

There are also three umbrella categories for ways to combat these threats:

  • Firewalls - Either hardware or software that monitors all traffic coming in to (and sometimes going out of) your PC or network. They can also stop unwanted traffic before it gets in or out of your PC or network.

  • Anti-Virus - Software applications that continually watch all activity on your system, downloaded files and email, for known viruses. They can scan your system at scheduled time, and quarantine or delete anything it finds.

  • Anti-SpyWare - Which is pretty much the same thing as a Anti-Virus, except it targets spyware instead of viruses.

OK, hooray, how does this info help me, and how much does it cost to protect myself? Well, let's take a look:


As stated above, firewalls are traffic monitors. Based on the type of traffic they see, which ports of your PC ("ports" are much like channels of a mixer, for example the internet is typically a port 80 service, incoming and outgoing mail are ports 25 and 110 typically), the firewall can block the traffic. It can also close ports from ALL traffic if need be.

Often with the newer routers for home networks with broadband connections, you get a hardware firewall built in to the router. These are very nice because they stop traffic before it even gets to the PC, rather than getting to the PC, then having a software firewall monitor it. However, most router firewalls only monitor incoming traffic, not outgoing.

Why monitor outgoing traffic? Well, this is how spyware often works, it sits on your PC and goes to the internet to get the popup add to toss up on your screen or other annoyances that they bring.

There are many firewall and router options available. I will link to a few if you are interested:

Routers from Amazon.com

Software Firewalls


We all know what viruses are. Most of us know how they spread, and we know that virus makers are getting more and more clever all the time.

There are a few simple rules that one can follow to minimize the risk of virus infections on your PC without spending a dime:

  • Don't use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express for email

  • Never, never, never click on an email attachment even if from someone you know, unless you were expecting it and know exactly what it is

  • Run an anti-virus on your PC at all times (which does not have to cost anything as you will see)

Simply following those rules will cut your likelihood of being infected by 99%. There are many anti-virus apps to choose from, way to many to mention here, but I will mention a couple common commercial AV apps, those being Norton and MacAfee. There is also a very good free app, AVG from Grisoft, which I have been using for about a year now and it is a great AV app, and much lighter on your system resources than Norton, MacAfee and many others.

When shopping for AV apps, be aware, no matter which you choose or look at, it is just like anything else, you will find people are very polarized in their preferences, and you will find somebody with a horror story about every one. So don't let one story about Norton turn you against them, cuz there will also be one with a story about MacAfee and one about AVG and every other maker out there.

Spyware and Malware

Quite possibly the most unethical, most annoying and biggest pain in the butt problem for a computer user is spyware and malware. The stupid little creatures that create and distribute this stuff are some of the lowest life forms that have access to the internet. One of the worst offenders being a group called Cool Web Search.

They have tools which install themselves in a number of ways, often over web sites and sometimes embedded in other software. many times it's fivilous little toy installs that appeal to kids such as smillies for IM's, font installs, screen saver and desktop theme installs and things of that nature. These apps or services then can do any number of things from watch what you do and where you go on the net, reporting back to their creator, then issuing popup ads to your PC for appropriate material, or just for anything.

A friend of mine runs the web site that is widely considered the number one resource for spyware info, anti-spyware tools and more. It is now his full-time job and mission to find and prosecute these losers. The web site is SpyWareInfo.com. At this web site you will find all the info you need to keep you PC clean, with a huge message forum, regular newsletters and updates about new threats.

I highly recommend everybody go there for their spyware info rather than spew the same info here.

Final Thoughts

Don't let the losers that do this stuff scare you into thinking you need two PC's, so your studio machine can not be on the internet. A cool head, and common sense preventative measures can make your internet safe and your studio can still function.

After getting these tools, the only thing left to do is make sure you keep their definitions up to date, which most apps do automatically.

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User-submitted comments

Nov 03, 2004 08:29 pm
just a thought for all to consider... there are no viruses for OS 10.3.x (panther). yeah one company that sells antivirus created one for it but it never worked, and they quit trying due to the fact that it was too complicated to write something like that. Plus OS 10.3.x has a built in firewall... and spyware is not that popular for it either. a thought is all.... just cause i do all that you can on a mac and not have problems does not mean that you need to hate me, OK? jk, love you all like... well... like beer.

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