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5 Ways to Avoid Adware and Malware

Beware! New adware and malware threats are identified all the time, and even regular browsing can leave computers exposed. Here's what to do

Most people have systems in place to protect their computers and vital information when they’re browsing the Internet. However, with new adware and malware threats identified regularly, any browsing can leave a computer exposed, especially if the user is unaware of what to look out for. Since adware and malware removal are more difficult than prevention, it makes sense to be educated and prevent a malware infection before it happens.

First, it’s important to distinguish between adware and ad-supported software. Ad-supported software is considered a legitimate alternative for consumers who do not wish to pay for software such as games and utilities. With ad-supported software, the ad is actually part of the software application and the user clearly understands they will be presented advertisements in exchange for free use of the software.

These ads are often displayed in the application screen or are text-based links. Ad-supported software generally does not employ ad formats like pop-ups and pop-unders. Upon exiting the software, the ads disappear. Quite often, the user has the option of disabling the ads by purchasing the software outright.

Adware, on the other hand, is often installed unknowingly by a user and presents advertisements externally to the software that generates them. The software that generates these ads is installed on the user’s computer, and users often will not know what generated the ad or how to stop the ads from being displayed. Ads delivered by adware are often shown as pop-ups or pop-unders. However, not all pop-ups and pop-unders are generated by adware; some are legitimate advertisements, known as site-based ads that come from a web site and not from software on the computer.

Adware is considered by most people to be a form of malware, specifically a form of spyware. Spyware, in its most benign form, monitors the Internet browsing habits or tendencies of the user. These habits are sent back to the originator, who then uses that information to send the user even more “targeted”, and sometimes annoying, ads.

Once on a system, spyware secretly installs itself and goes to work. Spyware is often very difficult for the average user to remove. While spyware infections are purposefully difficult to identify, there are some signs that it exists: for example there can be unwanted changes to homepage settings, new wallpaper backgrounds, new screensavers, or additions, deletions or alterations to security settings and favorites list.

Other signs of a spyware infection include pop-up ads that aren't related to usually-visited web sites, commonly manifested in advertisements that are adult content in nature or, believe it or not, advertisements for anti-virus or other anti-malware software commonly known as rogue software.

Anti-spyware software works by identifying spyware installed on a system and removing it. Since spyware is installed like any other application it will leave traces of itself in the system registry and other places on the computer.

It is important to remember that not all companies who claim their software is malware-free are really telling the truth. There is always a chance that adware, spyware, or other malware is in disguise so to speak, and that programs with embedded spyware may not state its existence at all.

Always stay on the side of caution and be sure to research privacy policies and licensing agreements that come with freeware, and become familiar with Internet lists of companies reported to be using spyware such as the one published by StopBadware.org. Much like a firewall or anti-virus program, anti-spyware software is crucial to maintain optimal protection and security on a computer or network.

Malware, on the other hand, is intended to not only access a computer without the owner’s consent, but is created either to damage it, use it for illicit purposes, or to steal personal information. This category includes all kinds of viruses, worms, Trojans, root kits, and the like. Anti-malware software that uses some form of heuristics to identify and stop bad programs before they can infect are a best bet.

Be most careful when considering downloading anything off the Internet, and if doing so, consider these five tips to ensure that playing it safe is playing it smart!

1.Be proactive – Have inbound and outbound firewall-enabled plus antivirus and anti-spyware software installed. This will alert that someone is trying to access a targeted computer to put software on it. Major antivirus companies have adware and malware protection combined. Norton and CA are popular suite options. AVG, Avira and Avast, offers free stand-alone anti-virus software while Lavasoft and SuperAntiSpyware offer free stand-alone anti-spyware software.

It’s also a good idea use a broadband router instead of directly connecting your computer to a high-speed modem. Most broadband routers include a hardware firewall which provides additional protection. Finally, ensure that you have all the latest security updates for your operating system and applications by visiting the manufacturer’s websites or turning on automatic updates.

2.Stick to familiar websites – When searching for common information, make sure it is from a reputable source. If during the search the site that pops up is not recognized, at the very least, be wary of the links and downloads offered on that site. Popular, heavy-traffic sites such as About, YouTube, MSN, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and any number of familiar news sites are sure to be safer bets.

3.Download from reputable sites – Downloading presents the greatest danger of introducing adware or malware into a system. Accidentally downloading an unwanted program instead of the one that is really wanted is a common mistake. As well, downloading one program, only to have it bundled with potentially unwanted software program can be a common problem. Reputable downloads sites like CNET Download.com, Softonic and Softpedia offer editor and user ratings for more insight into other people’s experiences with a particular program.

4.Check for unfamiliar programs – Every now and then, it’s a good idea to check the applications programs listed in the computer control panel to see if there are programs that you don’t recognize. If something doesn’t look like it belongs there and it can be identified as unnecessary, remove it. If it cannot be determined what exactly it is, search for that particular program online, or run a scan with one of the options outlined in step five.

5.Run regular scans – Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should be running regular and automatic system scans to detect issues. Real-time protection should be turned on as well as automatic updates. Research continues to show that people are commonly infected by malware simply because it was not up-to-date.

By following these five guidelines, you can increase your chances of staying safe online. Additionally, certified experts such as BluePhone can help with these five guidelines to ensure that proper precautions are taken with properly installed protection. And in the event that a mistake has been made, they can uninstall malicious programs and make everything right again.

About the author: Brad Furber is the CEO of BluePhone, a leading online computer support company committed to helping its members get the most out of their PC, Macs, software and connected devices. BluePhone Personal Tech Experts are certified solution engineers who diagnose and fix problems that plague computer users daily – security, configuration, desktop performance – and things like how to organize digital photos or making sure devices like MP3s provide maximum enjoyment.

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