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Going Mano a Mano with Spyware
April 7, 2006

Thank goodness for antispyware software. It detects a wide range of nasty and intrusive code. Better yet, it unceremoniously relegates that code to a tidy digital death.

stock photography
Plagued by spyware? You may be tempted to undergo a complete wipe. But not so fast...
But for all of its charms, most antispyware apps have a glaring, though understandable, fault - they can't detect every piece of spyware out there. Regardless of whether it's a paid product or a free download, 100 percent detection remains elusive.

That's the problem of casting such a wide net. There's bound to be a hole somewhere.

Advanced users typically avoid getting stung by keeping a couple of programs handy in the hopes that one will pick up what the other misses. But good luck getting the typical Windows user to run a scan every once in a while, never mind two.

Sadly, even this practice won't catch some of the more elusive bugs out there, which have been termed "rogues" for the purposes of this week's discussion.

Even so, you aren't completely defenseless. There are plenty of tools that can help admins find and remove even the most stubborn of these rogues. Be forewarned, the process may involve downloading some extra utilities, burning a live CD, a healthy dose of Googling and a reboot or two.

Which might lead one to wonder, why go through all that trouble? Starting fresh and recovering from backups may seem tempting, but it's not practical for many users, especially if they have an untold number of apps installed. Who wants to spend hours reinstalling them and restoring all of those custom settings and add-ons?

Plus, who knows how long spyware inhabited the system? Can the backups and restore points be trusted? (Hint: Probably not, and if you found rogue spyware on the system, it's a good bet it picked up something worse along the way.)

This week we examine the methods used by some of the experts at AO. It should come in handy when a user encounters some baffling PC behavior.

Note: Any opinions expressed below are solely those of the individual posters on the AntiOnline forums.

Spotlight Thread:
Manually removing spyware

Thread starter brokencrow offers some good tips.

Search the system for any recently added dll's or exe's. Also, for any null files (xxx.~) or tmp's. The time stamp's important. One of the first things to determine is how long a user's been having problems. This will help refine your search for any recently added files.

Do your homework here. Google any dll's or exe's you find in your search-by-date. No sense in deleting any legitimate app files. Sometimes you'll find dll's and exe's in odd places: temp folders, even the Windows' font folder. Use common sense. If you're not sure, backup the dll or exe to a USB drive. Null files and tmp files are safe to add to your list. Crap Cleaner (CCleaner) will clear the stuff in the temp folders generally but not always. Don't take anything for granted.

Windows isn't always cooperative when it comes to detecting and deleting the furtive types. Time for some drastic measures.

Removing our little friends is a process of booting and rebooting till they're gone. You need a live Linux CD. First, so we can see what's on the Windows' partition. And second, so we have another option for removing the rogues (they can get tricky). You can hide from Windows' API, but you can't hide from Midnight Commander.

Relyt simplifies the process like this:

I love the command line approach, however you can eliminate much of your search by employing some sort of "Change Control" even on your home network.

There are multitudes of Integrity Monitors online. Just pop "Integrity Monitor" into your favorite search engine and select one that best fits your needs. For brevity I only listed two. - Click here to see what they are.

How do you zero in and eradicate on spyware? Discuss it here.

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