More Insider Secrets
|No matter how vigilant you are, you may wake up one morning and find your PC overrun with pop-up ads or your browser hijacked by a piece of spyware. Windows System Restore, found in Windows XP, offers a quick and easy way to remove such a spyware infection--if you catch it early enough.
Whenever you install a new piece of software or make a major change to your system, you can create a restore point in Windows, which records your system configuration before the change. This works like a system-wide undo, letting you fix any problems that a new piece of software or hardware or something else has caused. System Restore shouldn't affect any of your data, only your system configuration, and in any case, the changes you make are completely reversible. You can turn on System Restore so that it automatically creates restore points daily and before you install software. Or if you know you're about to install a new program or make a change, you can manually create a restore point.
- To access System Restore, click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. If you have System Restore turned on, you'll be presented with a calendar showing available restore points. If not, you can choose to create one before you install a new app.
- If you've been using System Restore and suspect you've accidentally downloaded spyware, just select the most recent available restore point that you believe predates the introduction of the spyware. Remember, this will undo all changes made to your system, including any software updates, though it won't delete documents you've created since the restore point. So be conservative; you can always try again with an earlier restore point.
- Once you've successfully banished the spyware and restored your system to good working order, you may want to delete your saved restore points so that you don't inadvertently use System Restore and reinstall the spyware on your system. To do this, right-click the My Computer icon on your desktop, click the System Restore tab, click the check box next to "Turn off System Restore on all drives." Click OK, then repeat the process, unchecking the box to turn System Restore back on.
- If you're about to download software that might be suspicious and you don't have System Restore turned on (it can be a bit of a system hog), just create a restore point before you install. Click System Restore, then Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore, and choose "Create a restore point." Follow the prompts and install without fear. If something goes wrong immediately or after a few days, just restore to the point you created.
If you haven't yet installed Microsoft's Service Pack 2 update for Windows XP
, here's another reason to do so: SP2 gives you detailed control of add-ons to Internet Explorer, helping you take back control of your browser and thwart a wide array of spyware attacks.
On the sly or by masquerading as a useful utility such as a toolbar, spyware can infiltrate Internet Explorer, hijacking your browser, bombarding you with ads, and tracking your every move online. Even legitimate add-ons can be infuriatingly difficult to remove once installed on your system.
- To manage add-ons, first make sure you have Service Pack 2 installed. Then launch Internet Explorer, go to the Tools menu, select Internet Options, and click the Programs tab.
- Click the Manage Add-ons button; you'll probably be presented with disturbingly long list of add-ons. Go one by one through the list, click anything suspicious, and select the Disable radio button.
Be aggressive in disabling add-ons, especially Browser Helper Objects and Browser Extensions. It's a simple matter to reenable them if you realize later that you need them.
Of course, you may want to consider abandoning Internet Explorer altogether and switching to an alternative browser such as Mozilla's Firefox
. That will limit your vulnerability to many spyware and virus threats.
It's a sad fact, but the more suspicious and paranoid you are, the more likely you are to avoid a spyware infection. With a few wrong clicks, you can be completely forfeiting your privacy online. However, with just a little self-restraint, you can avoid most online threats.
Before you install anything,
ask yourself this simple question: do I trust the makers of this software to have access to everything on my PC? Has someone I know and trust recommended this software, or did I just happen upon it through a banner ad? If you don't have a good reason to trust the software publisher, take a pass. It's not worth the risk.
Of course, even the most cautious need a bit of insurance, and fortunately, there are outstanding tools available--for free.
- Spybot Search and Destroy will scan your system for practically all known spyware threats and remove them.
- ZoneAlarm not only protects your system from hackers and worms attacking from the outside, it lets you tightly control which applications on your computer are allowed to send data via the Internet, letting you stop spyware before it can "phone home" your personal data.