How to: Get rid of pop-ups! (and other annoying malware)

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007 11:38 am

Q: I haven’t been visiting any sites that I hadn’t at the beginning of the year, but I’ve been getting a lot of pop up ads recently that significantly slow down my computer. How can I fix this?

A: As you’ve probably guessed, keeping your computer free from malware (which include viruses, adware, spyware, and annoying popups) isn’t easy — but it can be done if you have the right tools.

The first step is Prevention. Secure your browser to keep malicious code from executing on your computer and be careful of what you download!

Always update your web browser. Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari all periodically release updates. Sometimes these updates improve functionality or add features, but most often they patch security holes. However, depending on which internet browser you use most often, “securing” your browser will require different steps:

Internet Explorer 7
The main threat to Internet Explorer 7 are add-ons (toolbars, helpers, skins, etc) that may be malicious or just slow down your computer. You can manage add-ons from within IE 7 (Internet Explorer add-ons: frequently asked questions) , but should also uninstall them using Add and Remove Programs (XP) or Uninstall a Program (Vista).

From the Tools menu, choose Internet Options then the Security tab to change your security “zone” settings. IE splits up all the websites that you visit into Internet, Local intranet, Trusted sites, and Restricted sties. For each “zone” you can setup a security level. The default settings are appropriate for most people, but for more information: Setting Up Security Zones (this article is about IE6, but the feature works the same way in IE7).

If you are having a lot of problems with Internet Explorer 7, and you think they could be related to an add-on or configuration setting that you can’t isolate, you can reset the browser to its default configuration.

Firefox 2.x
The most important change you can make to Firefox’s settings is to set the browser to ask you where to save files — this prevents you from accidentally downloading something when you thought you were just clicking on a link to another webpage.

From the Tools menu, choose Options then the Main tab. (Mac users: From the Firefox menu, choose Preferences then the Main tab.) In the Downloads section, check “Always ask me where to save files.” To protect yourself further, click on the Security tab and check “Warn me when sites try to install add-ons” and “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected forgery” for more information on this feature: Firefox Phishing Protection FAQ []

Like Internet Explorer, Firefox can also suffer from poorly designed add-ons that drain your computer’s CPU, so if you notice that your computer is running slowly after installing a toolbar or extension, uninstall the extension or theme. Uninstalling add-ons []

Safari for (now available for Windows and Mac OS X) is a very good browser for Mac OS X, and the version for Windows is coming along… but use it with caution for this reason: There is no way to set Safari for Windows so that it will ask you if you want to download a file. When you click on a link to a file, Safari automatically begins downloading the file instead of asking you what you want to do with the file. So, with that in mind, feel free to give Safari a spin, but don’t rely on it to keep you from accidentally downloading malicious or unwanted files.

Once you have “secured” your browser, you will want to remove any existing malware. (And even after following the steps above, you will occasionally want to check your list of installed programs and run the following malware removal tools.) Use Ad-Aware Personal SE, Spybot Search & Destroy, and CCleaner to look for spyware and adware that McAffee Virus Scan does not remove. Downloads and instructions are available on the Smith Software downloads page.

Have you ever installed a new piece of software and noticed that all of a sudden there are two or three new programs in your system tray?

YES? How can you avoid this? Read every pane of the installation wizard when you install a program and only install the parts that you want. (Be especially wary of software that claims to scan your computer for viruses. This is a common tactic of malware developers.) If you end up with unwanted software anyway, remove it as soon as you notice the application using Add or Remove Programs (XP) or Uninstall a program (Vista), both found in the Control Panel. If this does not completely remove the program, do a Google search using the name and “uninstall” or “remove” for manual removal instructions.

You may also want to try Windows Defender, a free download from Microsoft that protects “your computer against pop-ups, slow performance and security threats caused by spyware and other potentially unwanted software.”

Unfortunately, if a computer gets seriously infected, the only option is to reinstall Windows. With that in mind, work to prevent your computer from being infected and keep backups of your data. That way, in the unfortunate case that you do need to reinstall, the process will be easier.

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