Skip to comments.Terminating Spyware With Extreme Prejudice~"It's like a baptism for your computer," Mr. Wagner said
Posted on 12/30/2004 9:13:24 AM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
By RACHEL DODES
HE end of the year is a time when people sit down, rethink their priorities and sometimes change their ways. Some quit smoking. Others join a gym. I chose to erase my hard drive and reinstall my operating system.
Sure, it was a drastic move, but my two-year-old I.B.M. ThinkPad - equipped with a 1,000-megahertz Pentium III processor, a high-speed Internet connection and 256 megabytes of memory - was running about as fast as the Apple IIE I used in the mid-80's.
After six months engaged in mortal combat with spyware - parasitic software that tracks your browsing habits, sends out pop-up ads and can even send your private information to an organized crime ring in Guam - I had two options: shell out $1,200 for a new ThinkPad, or wipe my hard drive and start from scratch - a huge production with potentially cataclysmic results.
Since I enjoy new challenges (and more important, since I lack the funds to buy a new laptop), I decided to shoot for the moon and delete, delete, delete.
It did not have to be this way. I can trace the decline of my computer's performance to an ill-advised download over the summer. In a pop-music-induced frenzy, I am embarrassed to admit, I went to www.kazaa.com, downloaded and installed the free file-sharing service, then proceeded to download (a k a steal) Britney Spears's and Madonna's collaborative effort, "Me Against the Music."
I was about to get my karmic retribution.
In downloading Kazaa, I had inadvertently opened the floodgates to all manner of spyware. By the end of the summer, even after I had deleted Kazaa and installed Norton AntiVirus 2004 - which took care of the virus-related part of the problem - I was unable to open Internet Explorer without being deluged with pop-ups enticing me to buy everything from herbal weight-loss pills to obscure business publications.
My home page would mysteriously try to redirect itself to a site called badgurl.grandstreetinteractive.com. Little gray dialog boxes would pop up in the center of my screen to inform me, shockingly, that my computer might be infected with spyware. Then it would crash.
Spyware is "definitely the most annoying problem," said Tim Lordan, staff director of the nonprofit Internet Education Foundation, which joined with Dell Computer this year to mount a spyware awareness campaign (www.getnetwise.com). Spyware is also ubiquitous: in October, a study by America Online and the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance found that 80 percent of computers were infected with it.
As my frustration mounted, I sought the advice of fellow spyware sufferers. My friend Jesse, a lawyer at a large New York firm, told me he was forced to wipe his hard drive when his Dell Latitude laptop transmogrified into a purveyor of pornography advertisements. He sheepishly confessed that against his better judgment, he had downloaded a virus- and spyware-addled copy of the Paris Hilton sex video.
"I contracted a sexually transmitted computer virus from Paris Hilton," said Jesse, who requested that his last name not be printed. (He feared his law firm - and his wife - would not be too happy about the download.) "It was chronic."
Downloading dubious files is a surefire way to get spyware, but it can also be transmitted through seemingly innocuous e-mail, by clicking on a banner ad, or from wholesome Web surfing. The programs install themselves in several places on your computer, making it difficult to find and delete them.
What's worse, even if you do delete them, many are programmed to reinstall themselves automatically when the computer is rebooted.
What really distinguishes spyware from other computer security threats (viruses, worms and Trojans) is that it often seems to defy the products meant to exorcise it. McAfee introduced an anti-spyware program - aptly called McAfee AntiSpyware - in February, but it has met with mixed reviews.
Symantec, the maker of Norton security software, will release its first anti-spyware product early in the new year. (Norton AntiVirus can detect some forms of spyware, but cannot get rid of it.) Microsoft also announced that it would release new anti-spyware software by the end of January.
For now, though, computing experts recommend what they call a "multilayered approach" - translation: ad hoc, complicated and largely ineffective.
I tried everything the experts suggested. I switched my default browser from Internet Explorer - the target of most spyware programmers - to Mozilla Firefox (available free at www.mozilla.org) and downloaded and ran free expert-sanctioned software with all sorts of renegade names (CWShredder, Spyware Search & Destroy, AdAware and HijackThis).
I submitted my "HijackThis log" - a three-page list of potentially dubious files - to a reputable online help forum and, following the experts' advice, manually performed a perilous bit of surgery on my computer's vital organs, deleting several keys from its Windows registry.
The pop-ups continued unabated. A Norton AntiVirus scan informed me that despite my efforts, 77 spyware programs were still lurking on my hard drive. (Before this daylong production, I had more than 100 pieces of spyware on my computer, so indeed, it was an improvement.)
Erasing my hard drive, long considered a last-ditch measure, was becoming more and more appealing with each passing virus scan. My friend the bankruptcy lawyer finally convinced me: "The catharsis cannot be understated."
He recommended I talk to his friend Larry Wagner, an independent technology consultant who has become a self-styled sherpa in hard-drive erasure. At last count, he had helped six other people (including his in-laws, his parents, a colleague from work and my friend) deal with spyware problems. Mr. Wagner is particularly enthusiastic about deleting - and upon hearing my sordid tale, requested that I wipe my hard drive under his auspices.
"It's like a baptism for your computer," Mr. Wagner said. "You cannot truly live a good life until you've taken that first step."
I arrived at Mr. Wagner's Upper West Side apartment on a December evening with my laptop, a list of my computer's components, my original Windows XP Pro installation discs, a 20-gigabyte iPod and a bottle of Cabernet.
It is important to note that some computers, including my own, contain a hidden, manufacturer-installed hard drive "partition," which houses operating system software that can be deployed in an emergency. But since not all computers have this feature, I chose to use the XP installation disks instead. (Some people will want to upgrade their operating system in the process - from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, for example - which requires installation disks anyway.)
The first thing Mr. Wagner and I did, since my computer lacked a CD or DVD burner, was to save everything to an external hard drive. (You can buy a plug-and-play keychain drive for $20 to $250, depending on how much storage you want, but an MP3 player also doubles as a nice portable hard drive.) I decided to use my iPod, which was only half full.
I simply plugged it into my laptop (it shows up as an "E" drive under My Computer), and copied onto it all of the files contained in My Documents, My Pictures and My Music. I then transferred the contents of my iPod to Mr. Wagner's desktop, on which we created a folder called Backup. The process took about 90 minutes.
Then, using Mr. Wagner's DVD burner, I saved the entire Backup folder onto a five-gigabyte DVD. (If you are not so lucky as to know someone with a DVD burner, you can do the same thing using a regular CD burner and several CD's, which typically hold about 700 megabytes each, or many, many Zip disks, which hold 250 megabytes each.) I could have simply kept my files on the iPod or another external hard drive and transferred them back to my pristine hard drive after the procedure was over, but it would have been riskier, and I would have ended up with no backup discs.
Now I had a backup of everything. Make that two: Mr. Wagner believes in what he refers to as "Noah's archiving," saving two copies of everything, just in case.
Then I took a deep breath, toasted the New Year, and inserted the XP Pro CD-ROM installation disks into my own computer. My computer asked me if I wanted to reformat my hard drive (yes), and warned me that if I continued all files would be deleted (good). It took about an hour for XP to reformat my hard drive and install itself, and I just sat back and watched while the screens became progressively more colorful.
When my computer rebooted, it had total amnesia. It was like the Kate Winslet character in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," who has brain surgery to erase the memories of a painful relationship. My computer asked me to enter my time zone, country and type of Internet connection I would be using (LAN, dialup, etc.). It thanked me for buying an I.B.M. and asked if I wanted to register my product. (I said I would do it later.)
Now that I had a clean slate, I went online and downloaded all of the XP patches and updates from Microsoft's Web site (windowsupdate.microsoft.com). I made sure I connected to the Internet using an external router with a built-in firewall - after all this, I did not want spyware to sully my pristine hard drive.
I plugged my computer into Mr. Wagner's network, and downloaded all of the necessary Microsoft updates, including Service Pack 2, and restarted my computer. This step took about 40 minutes. Now it was 12:30 a.m., so I thanked Mr. Wagner for his help and went home.
The following morning, I was ready to reinstall all of my software. In keeping with the hypervigilant theme, I started with Norton AntiVirus. After installing it, restarting, and scanning my computer, I was elated to discover I had a clean bill of health. Not a rogue program in sight!
Emboldened by this development, I reinstalled all of my programs - Microsoft Office, iTunes, FinalDraft - and all of my external components, like my printer, camera, CD burner and iPod. Fortunately, I had all of my software discs and their necessary registration codes in a file cabinet next to my desk. The drivers for the external components were not even needed because XP can recognize just about anything and procure the necessary driver online.
The software installations took about eight hours over the course of two days, and involved downloading certain things, like Adobe Reader and Mozilla Firefox, from the Web. Between each installation, I restarted my computer, which made this process annoying and time-consuming. (For those who have tons of software, the prospect of reinstalling everything might be worse than the idea of peacefully coexisting with spyware.)
Finally, it was time to upload all of my saved files. I plugged in my iPod, and just for good measure, deleted "Me Against the Music" from my music library before putting my songs back on iTunes. After all, it's almost 2005, and I did not want any ill-gotten gains to taint my perfect computer.
Two weeks later, still no spyware. Yes, it was a huge production, but after struggling with spyware for the last six months, I have to say it was well worth it.
And that's probably the most insidious issue with spyware: having to waste the time and effort, not to mention the resources, to nuke your own equipment.
I hate these people.
lol He installed the full verion of KaZaA. I remember back in the good ol' days of file grabbin' when kazaa didn't have any adware. Version 1.3 was the best, and Morpheus was still on the fast track network.
Then they sold kazaa, nuked Morpheus, and went with all the bloatware and spyware they could get their hands on.
I used to be one of the mods on the old Kazaa forums when it first came out. There were only 15k users, and it was all fun. Then it launched to over a million users and they did away with the forums, and in came the spyware. That's when I stopped using it.
Now we have BitTorrent!
Windows and Internet Explorer are such a soft target.....
What's the story on BitTorrent?
I know some of the sites are being shut down.....
Some journalist. There's freeware that could have taken care of all of this without a reformat, and all information has been posted on various threads on FR.
1. Ignore Norton. Buggy and doesn't work very well. Download Avast Anti-Virus and that will do the job.
2. Install Firefox and make it your default browser. It will work in virtually all cases.
3. Download CleanCache and run that. It will clean up all IE temporary internet files and other things that are slowing the computer down.
4. Adaware SE and Spybot should waste just about any spyware lurking on your system.
Some of these programs have commercial licenses that cost, but can be used free for personal use. Decide accordingly. The whole process isn't that hard to correct.
Two of my home systems were infected with some really hideous spyware. Sure, I've been hit before but usually AdAware and/or SpyBot Search & Destroy would quickly and cleanly remove unwanted stuff. Not this time. It tried and tried with those tools, downloaded a few more, but no luck. I finally tried Giant Anti-Spyware and it worked great on both systems. It figures that Microsoft just bought them out. Try it yourself at www.giantcompany.com.
I also love Cookiewall.
Had not heard of Giant before....
From the website:
Theres a GIANT difference between everyday anti-spyware programs and GIANT AntiSpyware. Not only does GIANT AntiSpyware search and remove existing spyware on your computer, it also alerts you when potential dangers arise, stopping most spyware before it can install. This prevention helps to keep your computer up-to-date and helps protect your personal information.
On December 16, 2004, Microsoft announced its acquisition of GIANT Company Software. Microsoft plans to make available a beta version of a spyware protection, detection, and removal tool, based on the Giant AntiSpyware product, within one month for Microsoft customers.
I can agree with everything in your post except the comment about Norton. It's worked like a charm in every way over the years I've had it.
There are a lot of people making some big money over all of this, I would bet things are gonna get interesting in the courtrooms.....
That was his first mistake. Kazaa is spyware, and will not run when its' spyware components have been removed.
...after I had deleted Kazaa and installed Norton AntiVirus 2004...
Norton AV is as worthless as tits on a boar. It misses things. There are a number of FREE anti-virus products that are far superior (see table below).
A combination of AVG or AntiVir, Tiny Personal Firewall 2 (even if you're on dial-up), along with a bit of common sense, can go a long way to keeping your computer safe.
And here's the table: (Recommendations for additions are welcome.)
|PC security-related links & software. All software listed is freeware/open source.|
|Alternatives to Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook & Outlook Express:
Mozilla & Firefox browsers, E-mail/Usenet client(s)
Off By One
The world's smallest and fastest web browser
AntiVir® Personal Edition
Antidote SuperLite Screenshot
On-demand virus checker
AntiVirus Utilities Tookit
Spybot Search and Destroy
Tiny Personal Firewall 2
(Last freeware version)
Internet diagnostic tool
Spyware/Adware/Malware FAQ and Removal Guide
Firewall Test, Security Test and Security Scan
Test Your Firewall
Because newer is not always better
$ uname -a Linux zprc 2.6.8-1.521 #1 Mon Aug 16 09:01:18 EDT 2004 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux $
Oh yeah! That's right. I use Linux! My computer just works without having me live in fear of infection, worms, spyware, and God knows what else.
Does one run into fewer spyware problems with a Mac? Thanks-Mom
I reformatted just the other day. Once a year reformatting is not the worst idea in the world. I did it mostly because I wanted to make a clean WinXP install with SP2. Prior to that I made a CD disc from my copy of XP that has SP2 slipstreamed into it.
I used this program -SlipStreamer2Beta21- to do the slipstreaming operation. Making the new XP/SP2 CD bootable is a little tricky but not that hard. After installing my new XP/SP2 I was pleasantly surprised to find only 4 Windows updates were needed.
The major factor that keeps me away from Linux and with XP is the cleartype option
It's still alive and well. It depends on what you use it for. It's very helpful for getting 'legally' distributed information, like Operating Systems and other things. Recently suprnova.org was shut down, it was the mother of all torrent sites, but there are many others out there.
Most definitely...I am not a Mac user....I browse with Xandros....Linux....and am having no problems with spyware..... I also have a couple of Xindows XP machines used for the normal sort of things that windows is good at....I just don't let them get on the internet and browse with them....
I am solving my problem with multiple machines....rumor has it that apple is about to announce a sub $500 machine that might be an answer....KVM switch and use current monitor and keyboard mouse between the two machines....one machine is never enough...
Sounds like you're having trouble with some machines with minds of their own! ;>)
Are their Mac versions of the anti-spyware software listed above? I am full of questions because we are getting a Mac next week. I use my work laptop now, and it goes through my company intranet first, which has mega-firewalls and security, so I am almost completely pop-up free right now. Don't want to get into trouble with our new Mac!
VNC is cheaper, and perfect for lazy folks like me - unlike KVM, you don't even have to flip a switch ;)
So you have your own inhouse network?
Makes text more defined and clear http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypeInfo.mspx
Much to my wife's dismay, yes. She is somewhat happier now that I'm in the process of gradually ripping out the cat5 and going wireless ;)
I keep getting a suspicious looking screen that says something like "Your computer not be running at full speed. Click here."
Is that the result of spyware?
I'll bet he had a Spyware service installed. I'm seeing more and more of those these days. Windows Net Login for example. It sounds like a legitimate service. It's pure spyware.
My FR homepage has more detail.
I don't think you'll need it. I've been using a Mac laptop for 18 months now and have never had a piece of spyware. My Windows desktop is continually infested. BTW, I went to Apple's website support section and searched on the word "spyware" and got no hits. It's just not an issue. You will never regret getting a Mac.
That is more likely just a popup AD...what machine and software are you using?
Thanks. We also have a pretty sensitive fire-wall installed in our wireless router; it keeps out a lot of stuff. I'll have to be sure to instruct the kids never to click on a banner ad!
Windows XP. IE 6.0
You've been thru more stuff than I have, course my resume includes mostly big IBM Iron.
....excellent advice on your Home page, lots of work...I like my solution...keep Windows away from browsing the WWW.
See Malsua's ... FreeRepublic profile page.....
He has it figured out it seems to me.
GOOD LIST .... thanx
Why do say Norton anti virus is worthless? I use it.
Good luck with the kids. My teenage son's friends love to use our computers and I think their web-surfing is the source of most of the spyware. Of course they deny everything. I'm pretty indulgent about this sort of thing because I'd rather my son and his friends were at our house than someone else's but I think that sometime next year we'll get one of those slick flat-panel Imacs and end the problem for good.
Stacks of equipment, piles of remotes, a rat's nest of Ethernet cables - the wired life can get ugly. But a new school of home design is finding creative ways to combine tech and aesthetics. These four houses show how geek palaces can be elegant, comfortable, and tasteful. [ Coming January 3 ]
By Jessie Scanlon
I added WebRoot Spy Sweeper to my computer, haven't had a piece of spyware in about months. Don't get annoying popups either. Best investment I ever made.
Drool....drool...you need to see the Jan issue of Wired....but check it out before you share with your wife....the good stuff starts on page 103.....
Hey, how'd that guy get in to my house? ;)
It's not as bad as it used to be - I spent a weekend last year with a fish tape and ran all the cable inside the walls, putting jacks in each room. Before than it was kind of haphazard - some inside the walls, some on the baseboards, etc. Of course, you still need cable from the jack to the box, which is what I'm hoping to get rid of with the wireless network...
IE bug? No worries for me - we're a FF house ;)
Bump for later
>>You have no idea what a fight it was to get everything cleaned up.<<
Actually, I do. I spent almost the entire day Thanksgiving re-doing my Dad's POS Dell computer and doing much of what I recommended above to my Mom's. My Dad's has a more serious problem that I haven't as of yet identified, but my Mom's runs like a top after I installed everything I recommended and showed her how to update and run things. I doubt she's even ran them or updated them, but as of now, she hasn't had any problems.
Don't underestimate the utility of the programs I recommended. I believe if they won't cure the problems, you may very well have more serious issues.
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