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Chapter 21. Implementing Windows Vista’s... > Thwarting Spyware with Windows Defen...

Thwarting Spyware with Windows Defender

I’ve been troubleshooting Windows PCs for many years. It used to be that users accidentally deleting system files or making ill-advised attempts to edit the Registry or some other important configuration file caused most problems. Recent versions of Windows (particularly XP) could either prevent these kinds of PEBCAK (Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard) issues or recover from them without a lot of trouble. However, I think we’re all too well aware of the latest menace to rise in the past few years, and it has taken over as the top cause of desperate troubleshooting calls I receive: malware, the generic term for malicious software such as viruses and Trojan horses. The worst malware offender by far these days is spyware, a plague upon the earth that threatens to deprive a significant portion of the online world of its sanity. As often happens with new concepts, the term spyware has become encrusted with multiple meanings as people attach similar ideas to a convenient and popular label. However, spyware is generally defined as any program that surreptitiously monitors a user’s computer activities—particularly the typing of passwords, PINs, and credit card numbers—or harvests sensitive data on the user’s computer, and then sends that information to an individual or a company via the user’s Internet connection (the so-called back channel) without the user’s consent.

You might think that having a robust firewall between you and the bad guys would make malware a problem of the past. Unfortunately, that’s not true. These programs piggyback on other legitimate programs that users actually want to download, such as file-sharing programs, download managers, and screen savers. A drive-by download is the download and installation of a program without a user’s knowledge or consent. This relates closely to a pop-up download—the download and installation of a program after the user clicks an option in a pop-up browser window, particularly when the option’s intent is vaguely or misleadingly worded.


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