NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2004
Internet Annoyances
by Sherry Zorzi,
Secretary, Cajun Clickers Computer Club, Baton Rogue, Louisiana,
and APCUG Advisor for Region 8

The Internet is full of creepy-crawly beasties. Spam, popups, hoaxes, cookies, spyware -- what are these critters and how do I tame them???

Spam – unsolicited, usually commercial email, also known as UCE. You can’t stop it; the best you can do is try to limit it.

Popup – advertising that “pops up” in a small window of its own. Some websites pop up an unsolicited ad in a window on top of the page you are trying to view. Others hide the popups beneath the site you’re visiting, so that you see it when you finally close your main window. Some sites pop up several, or even dozens of popup ads – sometimes “freezing” the computer. The new popup scourge is controlled by one or more programs hiding on your computer, causing popups even when you are not online! They are all bad, bad, bad!

  • The best way to squash popups is with free software like Popup Stopper (http://www.panicware.com). Works perfectly and the price can’t be beat!

Hoax – fictitious email forwarded around the Internet by your well-meaning friends. Flesh-eating bananas, large corporations controlled by Satanists, viruses that cause your computer to catch fire – all are fabricated hoaxes. Most of us have at one time been taken in by one of these, forwarding it to everyone in our address book only to be embarrassed to find out it’s a fake. Any email, even if it’s from your mother, that says “Please forward this to everyone in your address book” is a hoax. Any email that promises you will get something for nothing is a fake.

  • Never, ever forward anything to everyone in your address book, no matter how “true” it sounds. Even if it is supposedly from IBM, Microsoft, or the government.

  • Type a few keywords from the email into a search engine like Google (http://www.google.com) and follow several of the links that come up. You should quickly discover that the mail is a hoax.

  • Before you hit “forward”, check out the “story” on one of the websites that specialize in de-bunking urban legends and hoaxes:

    Snopes (http://www.snopes.com)
    Urban Legends (http://www.urbanlegends.com)
    HoaxBusters (http://www.hoaxbusters.org/)

Spyware – technology that aids in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. Spyware usually comes “hidden” within software you voluntarily install. Along with what you wanted, you also get a small piece of software that installs itself behind the scene and sends back information on your surfing habits to an advertiser or marketing company.

  • You can control spyware with some free tools available on the web. The tools will either prevent spyware from getting on your machine, or remove it once it is there.

    Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com)
    SpyBot Search and Destroy (http://beam.to/spybotsd)

Cookie – a small text file placed on your computer by a website you visit. Cookies can be innocent, but some operate as spyware. Spyware-controlling software like Ad-aware will control spyware cookies, too. You can also exercise some control over cookies in Internet Explorer by clicking Tools, then Internet Options. Click the “Privacy” tab to allow or disallow various kinds of cookies on your system. Be aware that some features of some sites won’t work properly unless you allow cookies.

Virus, worm - a piece of programming code that causes some unexpected and usually undesirable event, such as spreading itself (in your name!) to everyone in your address book, locking up your computer, or deleting important files. They can be transmitted as attachments to an e-mail, as downloads, or be present on a diskette or CD.

Trojan horse – similar to viruses and worms, Trojan horses are particularly nasty as they can open up ports on your computer, making it possible for an intruder to control your computer remotely.

If you use the available tools, your Internet experience will be more pleasant for you, your computer, and for all your email correspondents. Don’t forget the most important tool of all – YOUR BRAIN! Use it.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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