Friday, October 15, 2004

Malware; the scourge of the web

Friday, October 15, 2004

I'll be visiting a web site when all of a sudden lots of links will magically appear in my favourites list and my home page and default search engine are changed without so much as a word of notification or a request to do so. I'm a sitting duck. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from this invasion of privacy?

These browser hijack attempts are orchestrated by a variety of malicious software (aka malware) built into, mostly seedy, web sites by unscrupulous webmasters. The majority of virus-like malware finds its way onto your system via Internet Explorer's reckless and highly vulnerable Active-X and Active Scripting components - two technologies designed to allow web sites to make high-level changes to your system upon your request - think of Microsoft's Windows Update protocol and online virus scanners, for instance.

Giving legitimate web sites the go ahead to alter your operating system is more than likely to be in your best interests. Your problems start, however, when less trustworthy individuals adopt the same technology to exploit your system for their own devious ends - to bully you into visiting shopping sites they are affiliated with, to monitor your activities for market research purposes, to unleash viruses and trojans upon your system, and so on.

Only Internet Explorer provides support for the insanely invasive components which make it easy for these cyber reprobates to cause your system serious harm - one of the many reasons you should ditch it this instant in favour of a more secure browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera!

Aside from switching browsers, these kind of exploits can be suppressed before they are able to embed themselves into your system by enabling the active protection features of your anti-virus software - that is providing you remember to keep its engine and virus definitions up to date!

No matter which browser or operating system you are running, it is also essential that you keep them both up to date by installing all service packs and bug fixes made available by their manufacturers. The vast majority of the changes made to operating systems and browsers when they are updated comprise behind the scenes security fixes, which can help to block off any loop holes that shifty webmasters can use to take advantage of anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon one of their sites.

If your system has already fallen victim to such exploits, you can often decontaminate it using a spyware/malware eliminator such as Ad-Aware or Spybot Search & Destroy. Much like the active protection components of anti-virus software, these tools often make use of preventative mechanisms to help you avoid contracting all manner of web nasties in the first place.

Better still, switch to the Mac platform! Malware is specifically a Windows issue - you can obviate its strangle hold entirely by abandoning this sinking ship.

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