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Computer Privacy Annoyances by Dan Tynan

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HACKERS, VIRUSES, AND WORMS—OH MY!

Attack of the Data-Eating Zombies

The Annoyance:

My computer seems to have a mind of its own. The drive light is flashing and it seems to be busy doing things when I’m nowhere near it. Have I been hacked? Do I have a computer virus? What can I do to keep from being hacked or infected?

The Fix:

Your machine may well have a virus. (Then again, maybe Windows is having one its regular nervous breakdowns.) Some viruses and worms announce themselves by displaying a silly message on screen; some make themselves known by destroying data or disabling your system. But in the past year we’ve seen an epidemic of attacks that turn PCs into so-called zombies —machines that are remotely controlled over the Internet and used to launch attacks against other sites, forward spam, or do virtually anything else the hacker desires. Another big threat is keystroke loggers—software that captures what you type and sends it to a remote location. These are extremely handy for stealing passwords, credit card numbers, and other confidential information.

The only way to prevent zombification is to follow safe email practices (such as not opening file attachments; see "Don’t Get Too Attached“), keep your operating system up to date, and get software that protects you from digital delinquents (see the sidebar "Ten Essential Privacy Tools“).

Tip

Think your PC is safe just the way it is? A visit to Steve Gibson’s ShieldsUP! (http://www.grc.com/default.htm) may change your mind. (Scroll ...

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