Spyware and Adware – Is your computer protected?

In addition to viruses, other types of malicious programs have caused serious problems for computer users. Spyware and adware are commonly referred to as "malware." This information is intended to promote understanding of malware, discuss preventative measures and provide information about ways to detect and remove these programs. If you have ever encountered malware, you understand how important it is to protect your computer from these unwelcome culprits.

FHSU and the CTC HelpDesk cannot provide personalized support for non-university systems, including those owned by students; however, using preventative measures and safer browsing habits can reduce your computer’s vulnerability to malicious software.

Symptoms of Spyware/Adware

Your computer may be infected with malware if you experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Unexpected installation of new browser objects such as toolbars or icons
  • New unknown desktop icons or program menu objects
  • Change of and/or inability to change browser homepage
  • Pop-ups continue to appear after Internet browser is closed
  • Surfing/navigating with browser is chronically slow
  • Computer is unusually slow/unresponsive even with no programs open
  • Internet browser crashes often
  • Internet browser ceases to function or “locks” up

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Causes/Prevention Tips

Malware is usually installed on your computer without your knowledge. These programs are often embedded in Web sites and are installed when your browser loads the page. They are also bundled and installed with many freeware programs. The cheapest and most effective way of preventing malware is to follow these safe “surfing” guidelines:

  • Never click pop-ups (even clicking “No” or “Cancel” is bad) - Many Web sites disguise their pop-ups to look like normal Windows dialog boxes. For example, clicking on a pop-up that states “Your computer is not running at optimal speed, click Yes to enhance its performance,” will direct you to another Web site, and it is likely that malware will be installed on your computer. To close a suspect window, click the “X” in the upper right corner of the window. The pop-up can also be closed by right-clicking on its icon in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen and selecting “Close.”
  • Never download files unless you fully understand what is included and know and trust the sender – Some Web sites will insist that you download necessary files before you can view them. Use extreme caution when downloading these files, especially if the publisher is unknown. Also, be wary of e-mails from unknown senders, and never click on a link or download an attachment from someone you don’t know.
  • Increase your browser security – This can be done by selecting Tools, Internet Options in Internet Explorer. On the Security tab, make sure the security level is at least Medium or higher. Please note that changing the security level may affect the ability to access some FHSU systems. Therefore, we recommend writing down your existing security settings before making any changes so you can change them back if you experience problems.
  • Read the EULA (End User Licence Agreement) – When you download any program from the Internet, be sure to read the EULA before you accept it. Many times the EULA will tell you that adware will be installed on your computer. Malware may be bundled with these types of “free” software to help recoup development costs.

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Anti-Spyware/Adware Programs

Once your computer has been infected with malware, specialized software can be used to remove these programs from your computer. It should be noted that many malware programs modify existing software installations, and removing malware completely is not always possible without damaging legitimate programs. In addition, removing malware from your computer may require you to reinstall existing programs. Free programs such as Ad-Aware, Spybot S and D or Microsoft’s AntiSpyware can be downloaded from their developer’s Web sites*. These programs are specially designed to identify and remove malware and can receive developer’s updates just like anti-virus software. It is important to update these programs and perform system scans regularly.

Note: Pop-up blocking software can be effective in masking or reducing symptoms of malware, but it is unable to detect or remove the underlying program that may be responsible. Pop-up blockers may also interfere with legitimate Internet activity, such as logging into the Forsyth Library research resources. Learn to configure your pop-up blocker so it can be both useful and effective.

Safe surfing habits and anti-malware software are not enough. The following areas are equally important in increasing your security:

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Anti-Virus Programs

Updated anti-virus software is a powerful tool in the fight against malware. Be sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software*.

Retail programs like Norton Antivirus and McAfee VirusScan can provide solid protection, increased customizability, and additional features. These are powerful programs, so it is important to configure them properly to ensure the most effective protection, while minimizing unintended reductions in response time.

Freeware solutions such as avast! Virus Cleaner and Anti-Virus, AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, and ClamXav Anti-Virus (for Macintosh systems) are also available and offer a satisfactory level of utility and protection. (See Where can I get free anti-virus software?.)

Whatever you choose for anti-virus software, keeping your virus definitions up to date is a crucial step. When you update your anti-virus software, the program retrieves the newest virus definition files available from its developer’s Web site. This is an important step to protect you from newer viruses, and should be done at least once a week.

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Security Updates

Windows users should regularly update their operating system (OS) with the newest security and operating system updates. Windows users with the automatic updates feature enabled can simply accept new software updates when their computer informs them that they are available. Those who do not use automatic updates can visit Microsoft’s Windows Update Web site to detect and download required updates. This Web site can be accessed by opening Internet Explorer and selecting Tools, Windows Update.

Macintosh users are generally less susceptible to security threats, but Mac users should regularly update their OS to the newest version. Macintosh users can install updates by clicking on the Apple menu and choosing Software Update.

For more information about protecting yourself from viruses and specific FHSU policies regarding university connections, visit our Virus Information page.

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Firewall software or hardware can prevent unauthorized remote access to your computer and control how programs installed on your computer connect to the Internet. A firewall can be software that runs in the background on your computer or a physical network device such as a router. Firewalls prevent intrusions and attacks by restricting access to communication ports on your computer. Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 installed) and Windows Vista contain a built-in firewall that monitors outbound communication. Software companies like Symantec offer retail programs like Norton Internet Security that contain firewalls and other security features. Freeware programs like Zone Alarm provide similar firewall features and program access control.*

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CTC HelpDesk Scope of Service Statement

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More Information

How to Protect Your Computer from Virus Attacks

Where can I get free anti-virus/anti-malware software?

Virus Information

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*FHSU does not endorse any particular anti-virus or anti-malware solution, and other companies not mentioned here may provide comparable programs. Third-party programs listed here are not affiliated with Fort Hays State University or the CTC HelpDesk, and while we feel it is very important to use anti-virus and anti-malware programs, we cannot make any guarantees regarding their use.

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