Adware, spyware, Trojans… If you’re relatively new to the net you might not know much about them. Basically they’re little malicious pieces of code that at best will keep track of the websites you look at then send that information out to advertising companies. At worst they’ll email your keystokes out to unknown people, including things like credit card details that you may have typed in to a website. In other words, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from this stuff.
You might be thinking ‘but the person in the shop told me that Norton Anti-Virus’ would protect me from these things. The problem is that these bits of code aren’t actually virii. In general terms, a virus will spread itself to other machines (usually by emailing itself to everyone in your email address book) then begin to destroy your information, eventually making your machine unusable until you have to wipe the disk. The kind of thing that we’re talking about here isn’t like that: it doesn’t want to destroy your information because it wants that information for itself, and the longer it can sit on your computer the more info it reaps. You’d be surprised how much information can be worth!
I also don’t rate Norton very highly over the last couple of years, but that’s another issue…
So, you need anti-spyware software as well as anti-virus software. Ad-Aware is very good and free for personal users too! Hurrah! While I’m here, the third of the holy trinity of essential web-ware is a firewall. If you haven’t got all three then you need to seriously look into getting them.
If you haven’t got a firewall either then I’d suggest downloading the Sygate personal firewall. Again, it’s free for individuals to use on their machines and very good at what it does (which is stops people from getting onto your machine through open internet ports and doing nefarious deeds).
You may have noticed that I don’t use the term ‘hacker’ for any of these people. That’s because I like the old use of the term. A hacker is, to me, a person who likes working out how things function and generally takes things apart to make them better. In computer terms this might be a person who writes code with the purpose of improving functionality over existing code, but I think it applies to any enterprise. I think that Picasso and Braque were hackers of the visual world. When they invented Cubism it permanently changed the way the world saw reality and for the better. That’s what good hacking is all about. Hacking is a bit like the term ‘kung-fu’: it’s usually applied to one activity but actually just describes a person who is really good at something. Hacking doesn’t have to be destructive, so I think lumping true hackers in along with destructive script kiddies is offensive to some of the smartest people in the world.
Play nicely with the hackers; they’re the people who are working on the cure for cancer.