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How do I stop spam email?
The best technology that is currently available to stop spam is spam filtering software and is increasingly available within anti-virus and internet security packages.  Some ISPs also provide spam filters that block or reroute potential spam before it gets to your Inbox.

Using non-web based e-mail software programs like Outlook or Eudora, for example, which include spam filtering utilities that you can customise to best suit your own needs.  For the business user there are organisations e.g. www.messagelabs.com that one can subscribe to who will filter your e-mail for spam and viruses for you.

A simple way of stopping spam e-mail for the private e-mail user is to change your e-mail address slightly.  Of course you then have the task of letting your friends and contacts know that you have changed your address which can be quite time consuming unless you have use of software, e.g. Outlook’s MailMerge, that allows you to send messages to some or all of the people in your address book.

For users of web-based e-mail such as Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, changing one’s address could prove to be only a temporary solution; see How Do They Get My Address?
How do email spam filters work?
The simplest filters use keywords such as "sex,", "xxx," "viagra," etc., in the subject line to attempt to identify and delete spam. These simple filters are easy to sidestep by spelling "sex" as "s-e-x." There are, of course, many ways to spell "sex" if you are willing to add extra characters like that, and it is difficult for the simple filters to keep up. Also, simple filters are most likel to block "real" e-mail that you do want to receive.  For example, if a friend sends you a recipe for curried chicken breasts, the filter blocks the e-mail because of the word "breasts."

More advanced filters try to take this simple approach quite a bit further and statistically identifies spam based on word patterns or word frequency. But there are still ways to get around them (mainly by using short messages).

There are several organisations that publish lists of IP addresses that are used by spammers. Any large spammer will have an array of server machines churning out spam messages, and each server machine has its own IP address. Once spam is detected from an IP address, that IP address is put in a list. Companies that host e-mail accounts can look at the sending IP address of every e-mail and filter out those that appear in the list.

How do they get my address?
Where does a company get millions of valid e-mail addresses to put on a CD and sell to you? There are a number of primary sources.

The first is newsgroups and chat rooms, especially on big sites like AOL. People (especially first-time users) often use their screen names, or leave their actual e-mail addresses, in newsgroups. Spammers use pieces of software to extract the screen names and e-mail addresses automatically.

The second source for e-mail addresses is the Web itself. There are tens of millions of Web sites, and spammers can create search engines that “spider” the Web specifically looking for the telltale "@" sign that indicates an e-mail address. The programs that do the spidering are often called spambots.

The third source is sites created specifically to attract e-mail addresses. For example, a spammer creates a site that says, "Win £1 million!!! Just type your e-mail address here!" In the past, lots of large sites also sold the e-mail addresses of their members. Or the sites created "opt-in" e-mail lists by asking, "Would you like to receive e-mail newsletters from our partners?" If you answered yes, your address was then sold to a spammer. Probably the most common source of e-mail addresses is a "dictionary" search of the e-mail servers of large e-mail hosting companies like MSN, AOL or Hotmail.

E-mail addresses generally are not private (just like your phone number is not private if it is listed in the phone book). Once a spammer gets a hold of your e-mail address and starts sharing it with other spammers, you are likely to get a lot of spam.

What is Spyware?
Spyware is any technology that aids in gathering information about a person or organisation without their knowledge. On the Internet, spyware is a program that is placed in someone’s computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties. Spyware can enter a computer as a software virus or as the result of installing a new program.

A sub-set of spyware, and the most damaging, is often called “malware”.

Malware is malicious code or software secretly inserted into a system to compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the data or applications residing on the network. Malware infections can cause extensive damage and disruption to a network, and they require costly efforts to restore system security and user confidence.

We can separate malware threats into five broad categories. Here's a quick overview:

Viruses: Self-replicating code inserts copies of the virus into host programs or data files. Viruses can attack both operating systems and applications.

Worms: A self-replicating, self-contained program executes without user intervention. Worms create copies of themselves, and they don't require a host program to infect a system.

Trojan horses: This self-contained, non-replicating program appears to be benign, but it actually has a hidden malicious purpose. Trojan horses often deliver other attacker tools to systems.

Malicious mobile code: This software with malicious intent transmits from a remote system to a local system. Attackers use it to transmit viruses, worms, and Trojan horses to a user's workstation. Malicious mobile code exploits vulnerabilities by taking advantage of default privileges and systems that are not kept up to date with the latest software ‘patches’.

Tracking cookies: Accessed by many Web sites, these persistent cookies allow a third party to create a profile of a user's behaviour. Attackers often use tracking cookies in conjunction with Web bugs.

Symptoms of Spyware
There are a number of symptoms of spyware. They include the following:

  • Your computer has a mind of its own. Spyware is a program and so it uses CPU cycles, memory and your Internet connection.
  • Your computer runs slower than normal.
  • You get a lot of bounced back e-mails or evidence of e-mails being sent without your knowledge.
  • Your Internet homepage has been changed and you do not know how.
  • An unexpected toolbar appears in Internet Explorer and you do not know how it got there.
  • Your firewall alerts you to an unknown program or process trying to access the Internet.
  • New shortcuts appear on your desktop or your taskbar, or even your system tray that you did not put there.
  • New entries appear in your favourites folder that you did not put there.
  • Excessive popup windows appear that you are unable to stop or close.
  • Every time you do a search, you end up at the same unusual, unknown website.
  • There is a new program in the add/remove section of your control panel.
  • Your anti-virus and/or firewall is mysteriously turned off.
  • You are unable to access any of these: task manager, regedit, MSCONFIG, which just pop up and then disappear.

Adware
Spyware is often synonymous with “adware”. Adware is any software application in which advertising banners are displayed while the program is running. The authors of these applications include additional code that delivers the ads, which can be viewed through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on a computer screen. The justification for adware is that it helps recover programming development cost and helps to hold down the cost for the user.

Symptoms of Adware
There are few symptoms of adware. They include the following:

  • Web pages advertising goods popping-up while you are online or offl ine.
  • Your Internet homepage has been changed and you do not know how.
  • An unexpected toolbar appears in Internet Explorer and you do not know how it got there.

Note
Data collecting programs that are installed with the user’s knowledge are not considered spyware providing that the user fully understands the data that is being collected and with whom it is being shared. However, spyware is usually installed without the user’s consent.

How do I stop Spyware getting onto my computer?

E-mail

  • Do not open e-mail from an unknown person or with an unexpected attachment.
  • Do not access links placed in unsolicited e-mail as they may try to plant software on your PC. If you are using Outlook or Outlook Express, turn off the setting that allows you to preview e-mail while keeping the Inbox list open. This is the same as opening the e-mail.

Web Browsing
If your computer is used to visit websites that are not published by well-known publishers, it is even more important to regularly scan for spyware. Pay close attention if you visit websites that advertise “too good to be true” deals or feature pornography.

Be careful what you download. Read all dialogue boxes carefully and close anything that looks suspicious. When you close dialogue boxes or pop-up advertisements, be sure to use the proper “X” to close the window. The Web is full of ads that feature mock “Xs” or “Close” or “OK” buttons within the ad. Clicking on them actually clicks on the ad itself. If you’re not sure how to safely close a window that has opened in your browser, right click on the window in your Windows Taskbar (usually at the bottom of your display) and click on Close.

Some ads that appear online attempt to pass themselves off as security alerts or messages from technical support (these are called FUIs, or Fake User Interface ads). If you are using a computer within an organisation, communicate with your technical support staff if you are unsure whether a message is legitimate, and familiarise yourself with how technical support communicates with the computer users in your organisations.

File-sharing applications
If you are using file-sharing applications to download music and other multimedia files, e.g. Kazaa, you are almost certain to become infected by spyware. The security risks involved with using file-sharing software include the installation of diallers and spyware bundled with file-sharing applications, as well as Internet connections that do not close, and mislabelled content.

The Windows operating system and Internet Explorer browser come with variable security settings. While the most convenient way to surf the Web might appear to be with the security settings on low, that is also the most dangerous. Central to the issue of securing your Web browser is controlling ActiveX, which is the name for a set of controls that can be automatically downloaded and executed by your browser. While most of these controls are useful and help you experience content online, they can be used for malicious purposes. Legitimate ActiveX controls are “signed” by their publishers.

Windows Update
By keeping up with the latest security patches and service packs, you will be plugging holes in your Windows operating system that could be used by malicious programs.  While many people are suspicious of spyware and their privacy online being compromised do not like Microsoft’s Automatic Updates feature, a visit to www.windowsupdate.com will keep you up to date with what patches your computer needs.

Firewalls
Personal firewalls are also a good way to stop malicious computers and programs on the Internet from contacting your system. You can obtain a free ZoneAlarm firewall from the following site: http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp/

You can also purchase firewall software from Norton and McAfee from most shops selling PC software.  Microsoft includes a firewall called the “Internet Connection Firewall” in Windows XP. When enabled, it prevents would-be hackers from scanning your computer’s ports and resources, including file and printer shares. Enabling the firewall was essential to stopping the Blaster virus of 2003 and is also recommended for stopping Messenger Spam

Detection and Removal
A search in the more popular search engines on the web will reveal many of the software applications that are able to detect and remove adware and spyware from PCs. Below is a list of some of the more widely used and popular software applications available on the Web.

Ennismore Ltd is able to offer advice on adware and spyware issues and may be able to provide help with some of the tools listed here:

I have several versions of the same document, how can I stop this?
There are only so many things that a computer do for you and organising your files and folders in a logical order is not one of them. For example the default folder for files created through Microsoft Office programs such as Word and Excel is My Documents. As a first step to organising files create sub-folders such as personal and work and then make sure that you save files in the appropriate sub-folder.  The creation of sub-folders does not have to stop at personal and work, you could, for example create further folders such as holidays, letters to friends, house, computer, etc. ‘beneath’ personal.

With e-mail attachments it is a good practice to save them onto your computer’s disk drive, again in an appropriate folder, before opening or changing them. This is also a golden rule for preventing virus infections.

There is software available that can detect duplicate filenames in different folders and help you rationalise any problems but it is just as easy and does not cost anything extra to use the Windows Search/Find utility to list, say, all your document files on your disk and then choose yourself which is the latest version of any duplicates by sorting the files in date modified order.

I have problems getting on to web-sites
Check your security settings on your Internet browser, your anti-virus software and your firewall.

If you are running any privacy protection or parental control software make sure it is not blocking access in some way.

If everything seems ok download and run some good anti-spyware programs , for more information on where to get this software from see How Do I Stop Spyware Getting Onto My Computer?

If you are still experiencing problems or are unable to access a web-site to download software please contact us for further assistance.

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