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PC MAINTENANCE FOR BEGINNERS / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 3: Securing your System

Use Malwarebytes for spyware

Whatever AV scanner you choose, you should always have some kind of back up, just in case something slips through.

No one anti-malware scanner seems to completely do the trick, however, you can usually get by with one and back it up with Malwarebytes.

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Malwarebytes has been the go-to anti-spyware app of choice for geeks for as long as we can remember. We like Malwarebytes because it’s good at what it does, rooting out spyware that your regular AV program might have missed.

You can purchase Malwarebytes, which will extend other benefits. It can also serve well as your primary malware software, however we like that you can install it as a standalone app and run it as needed. This allows you regular AV software to function normally without any conflicts.

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The full version does offer some nice features like realtime protection and scan scheduling, but the free version is more than capable of serving your needs.

Scanning Your System with Malwarebytes

When you start Malwarebytes, it may ask you to update your malware definitions. Click “Yes” to start the process, it should only take a few minutes.

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The main scanner window has nine tabs, but we want to concentrate solely on the “Scanner” tab for our purposes. The “Scanner” tab gives you three options. You can perform a “quick scan” that simply checks your system for malicious software. You can also do a “full scan,” which will allow you to select the drive or drive(s) you want to check. And finally, you can do a “flash scan,” which will check your memory and autorun (removable media such as flash drives). This last option is available only to users who buy the full program.

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For most, the quick scan should be sufficient. As you can see in the following screenshot, it only took a few minutes to scan our system, and Malwarebytes found a total of five potential threats.

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Click “OK” to see what the program found. Check off everything you want to remove (if it isn’t already selected) and click “remove selected” to clean your system.

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Once finished, Malwarebytes will generate a log and save it in its program folder. This will allow you to later review your removal history, just in case you want to research the threats the program removed.

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If necessary, you may need to restart your system to entirely complete the removal process.

Browser extensions and plugins

How much do you know about those browser extension and plugins you have installed? Well, as you may or may not be aware, many Google Chrome extensions are sold to malware distributors. According to this article published recently on How-To Geek, your browser extensions are basically spying on you, the gist of which is:

  • Browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and probably other browsers are tracking every single page you visit and sending that data back to a third-party company that pays them for your information.
  • Some of these add-ons are also injecting ads into the pages that you visit, and Google specifically allows this for some reason as long as it is “clearly disclosed.”
  • Millions of people are being tracked this way and they don’t have a clue.

The HTG article provides a great deal of invaluable information on how this happens but in sum:

  • Many extensions insert ads into pages you visit and track you as you surf the Internet.
  • Bad behavior is buried in tedious end user license agreements (EULA) and complicated privacy policies.
  • An extension can often change hands or update without your knowledge or permission
  • Some extensions include tracking code that is disabled by default, which can then be enabled remotely after you install the extension.

The long and short of it is that it’s all too easy to surrender a great deal of personal and personally identifiable information with just a few careless clicks of the mouse.

But What About Plugins?

Further complicating matters are plugins. Everyone knows what plugins are. Plugins have been around for as long as graphical Internet browsers (think Netscape Navigator) have been in existence. A plugin is basically a little helper that allows you to perform actions such as streaming video (Silverlight, Flash) or viewing documents (Adobe Reader) in your web browser.

For the most part, plugins are normally harmless and not usually associated with malware as much as they are for security exploits. Notably, Adobe Flash and Oracle Java seem to run into more than their fair share of problems. The biggest problem with plugins isn’t so much their insecurities, it’s their inherent usefulness and how much of a pain it is to surf without them. For example, without Flash, you can’t watch YouTube videos, without Silverlight you can’t watch Netflix movies, and Java, while seemingly useless 99 percent of the time, somehow manages to be that one plugin you need for that one specific task that you can’t accomplish any other way.

The good thing is, despite the risks associated with plugins and extensions, you can easily handle any problems, present and potential, with a few easy steps.

Living just north of the border, in what he calls Practically, Mexico, Matt spends his days scouring the latest tech news, writing e-books, and attempting to create the perfect breakfast burrito.

  • Published 03/12/14

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