Learning Online

Where to go next? This completes the Internet portion of Learning Online. Use the menu on the left visit other sections or view Resources.


Online Safety: Viruses, Adware, Spyware, and Pop Up Ads

The Internet is an exciting place. Millions of Web pages covering a wide variety of topics are available to explore. In addition to this, e-mail messages may be sent quickly and inexpensively to people all over the globe. These are some of the benefits of Internet access. Unfortunately, there is a down side that we need to protect ourselves from. Invasive and malicious programming in the form of computer viruses, adware, spyware, and pop up ads are among the array of potentially harmful things you might encounter online. It is possible to protect yourself from all of these by installing programs designed to block or remove them.

Computer Viruses
A computer virus is a small program that infects a computer causing problems that range from minor to major. A virus may cause a message to be displayed on your computer screen or it may destroy your files. So, how does a computer become infected with a virus? There are several ways this can happen.

  • Email Attachments: Some viruses arrive as email attachments. Be very careful about opening attachments. Anytime you see an attachment that has a file name ending in exe, vbs, or com avoid opening it. Some viruses will infect a machine and send copies of itself to everyone in the email address book. These types of viruses will look like a friendly email from someone you know. People are often tricked into opening the attachments and when they do their computers become infected. Fortunately, many Internet service providers (ISPs) have built in virus protection that blocks these from coming through to your machine. Anti virus programs such as Norton Anti Virus or McAfee Anti Virus will also block a virus from infecting your machine. New viruses come out all the time so it is very important to update your anti virus software on a regular basis.
  • Computer Software: Be very careful about downloading free software from the Internet. Computer viruses may be added to those programs, which are then offered for free to the public. These are often called trojans because they come disguised as something good, when in fact they are not. Once the free program is installed so is the virus. Not all free software is infected so it is possible to enjoy free software, but care should be taken when selecting it.
  • Directly Through the Internet: Some viruses called worms work their way through the Internet looking for computers that have vulnerabilities and infect them. Other viruses exploit vulnerabilities in Web browsers and infect computers while the user is browsing sites on the Web. When browser vulnerabilities are detected the company that created the browser will usually issue and update or patch to fix the problem. It is a good idea to check for browser updates on a regular basis.

Adware and Spyware
Adware and spyware are programs that are used to monitor your Web surfing habits and report the data for tracking. Advertisements may be customized based on this information. Adware and spyware may be installed onto a computer when a user installs free software. Sometimes adware and spyware are installed simply by visiting a Web site. Adware and spyware may cause a computer to run slowly due to the extra programs being run. Programs such as Ad-Aware can be used to scan for and remove adware and spyware from your computer.

Pop Up Ads
Pop ups are small windows that open when you visit some Web pages. Often they contain advertisements. Pop up ads may also contain adware, spyware, or viruses. Pop up blocking software is available to prevent pop up windows from opening. The Google Toolbar is a free browser search toolbar that includes a pop up blocker.

Tips for Safe Web Browsing
Despite the presence of computer viruses, adware, and pop ups it is possible to browse and enjoy the Web safely if adequate preventative measures are taken. Here are some tips for safe Web browsing:

  • Install anti virus software. Turn it on and keep it up to date.
  • Install a firewall. A firewall is a type of software that monitors access to and from a computer.
  • Install adware scanning and removal software. Keep it up to date and use it often.
  • Update browsers and other software used for Internet access. If you are using a Windows operating system perform Windows update to obtain critical updates. The critical updates will include patches to eliminate vulnerabilities in the software.
  • Install a pop up blocker.
  • Use common sense when installing software. Make sure it comes from a reputable company. Be particularly careful with free software.

Online Resources:

How Stuff Works-How Computer Viruses Work: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/virus.htm
Read about different types of computer viruses and how they work.

Latest Virus Threats: http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/vinfodb.html
Find out what viruses are currently being spread.

Spyware Guide Database: http://www.spywareguide.com/
Information about spyware and software to remove it.

Virus Hoaxes: http://vil.mcafee.com/hoax.html
Some viruses are not really viruses at all. These annoyances are called virus hoaxes.