How to outfox spam, spies

Solutions: There are lots of ways to combat the menaces lurking in the computer world.

October 07, 2004|By Teresa McUsic | Teresa McUsic,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Those irritating problems of the computer world - spam, viruses and spyware - continue to grow exponentially, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

Despite the first federal law regulating junk e-mail going into effect last January, spam still outnumbered legitimate messages, according to the survey of 2,000 e-mail users.

And most of us are aware of viruses, which can come from e-mail and from downloading software.

But spyware, which marketing companies use to "spy" on your Internet usage and send pop-up screens to lure you away from your regular sites, is also becoming more of a problem, according to Consumer Reports. While not illegal, spyware can slow down your machine, sending your blood pressure soaring.

There are ways to fight these menaces, however. Here are some tips from the magazine:

Don't buy anything promoted in a spam message.

Don't reply to spam or click on its "unsubscribe" link. That informs the sender that your e-mail address is valid.

If your e-mail program has a preview pane, disable it to prevent the spam from reporting back to its sender.

If you receive spam that promotes a brand, complain to the company behind the brand by postal mail.

Use one e-mail address for family and friends, another for everyone else. When an address attracts too much spam, abandon it for a new one. Select an address with embedded digits, such as jane8doe2@isp.com.

If you get lots of spam, check your Internet service provider's filtering features and compare them with those of competitors.

To help the Federal Trade Commission control spam, forward it to spam@uce.gov.

Don't post your e-mail address in its normal form on a publicly accessible Web page. Post it in a form, such as "Jane AT isp DOT com."

Ways to foil viruses and hackers

Don't open an e-mail attachment unless you were expecting it.

Use anti-virus software and heed security alerts e-mailed directly from anti-virus vendors to download antidotes for newly circulating viruses and worms.

Install a firewall with both incoming and outgoing protection.

Regularly update your operating system, Web browser and other major software.

Use passwords that are at least eight characters long that include at least one numeral and one symbol. Never disclose a password online.

When you aren't using the computer, shut off the modem or the computer itself.

Ways to outwit the spies

Download and install software only from trusted sources. Close windows containing pop-up ads or unexpected warnings by closing the entire window, not by clicking within the window.

When installing software, read the license agreement before clicking on "Agree" or "OK." Read any privacy statements. If they are difficult to find or include questionable practices, abort the installation by closing the window in which it's occurring. Don't try to close it by clicking on "Yes" or "I Accept."

Adjust your Web browser's security settings. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, keep its security level at medium or higher to block Web sites from downloading a file without your authorization.

Use updated anti-spyware software to scan your hard drive regularly. Always download it from a trusted site.

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