Friday, November 19, 2004

Spyware and Firefox

Question:
I have three popular spyware programs installed on my XP PC.No matter which order I run them in, each one will detect atleast one item that the others missed. I was wondering, how many spyware programs are too many? Thanks for your thoughts on this.Submitted by: Brian V.

Answer:
I would suggest that three is already too many, and that the reason they always seem to pick something up is because they are finding items in each other's quarantine stores. I use only two, Lavasoft's excellent and easy-to-use Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/) and Spybot's Search and Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/home/index.html).

Spybot is good because it allows immunization of Internet Explorer to prevent it from downloading known spyware in the future.I think it is easy to go overboard with spyware checkers and be overly concerned about the results, since the majority of what they pick up are tracking cookies, which are not a big issue.

A more integrated approach is what is necessary, and I will explain what I mean.

1. Whenever you install new software, especially free software, run a spyware checker before and after to make sure it is not bundled with spyware.

2. Use a more intelligent, secure, and current browser. I use Mozilla's excellent Firefox browser (http://www.mozilla.org/), which is current with the latest Web standards (version 1.0 was released this week, I have used the beta version for six months), It has built-in pop-up blocking, themes, extensions, tabbed browsing (no myriad windows), is lean and clean (a less than 5MB download), and is very secure.

This one change alone has reduced my spyware to nearly nil, and I find myself running the checkers monthly and still finding only negligible amounts of spyware. I have virtually ditched Internet Explorer as bloated, insecure, and outdated.

3. Be careful about your browsing and downloading practices. Watch what you click OK to,and understand that nothing is free, the cost just may not be monetary.

4. Reduce your spam. I use Mailwasher, which bounces unwanted e-mail before I get it. It also has the advantage of deleting viruses, and I have not had a virus slip through for ages (but I still keep my antivirus app up-to-date.)

The Mozilla site also has an intelligent e-mail program called Thunderbird that is more spam-aware than Outlook Express.Other than that, include a good antivirus program and make sure everything is kept up-to-date.

I need to do very little to my system, and it has run very clean and happy for a long time. As I said at the beginning, you can go over the top and spend so much time concentrating on every little tiny nasty that you lose sight of the experience.

Like our own bodies nasties are around us and in us all the time and if we worry about everything and take antibiotics, and chemist stuff repeatedly, we'll make ourselves sick. In the Internet there are a lot of harmless little nasties that shouldn't make us go overboard as multiple spyware checkers, antivirus programs and firewalls will often clash with each other and cause their own problems.

Follow my advice above and you will rarely have to worry about them and then you can get back to enjoying the computer experience.

Submitted by: Michael F. of Perth, Western Australia

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