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Do some web pages look strange to you? Find out why!

In an effort to make "surfing the net" more enjoyable, some companies have created programs which have actually made it worse. If you notice a lot of blank space on the sites you visit, sentences that seem to be missing words, words that are highlighted in yellow or bronze, links that don't work or take you to blank pages (etc), it may not be the fault of the site you're visiting. You may hear the term "spyware" associated with this problem, although there are other products that may cause these problems.

One of the most common is Norton Internet Security and Norton Personal Firewall. It installs with the Ad Blocking feature turned on, which might be a fine feature if computers weren't so dumb:-)) Unfortunately, there is no way to clearly identify an ad so the software blocks whatever it believes might be an ad. This is a bit like chopping off someone's hand to remove a hangnail. It works, but wouldn't you rather have your hand? It also blocks certain picture sizes, those most commonly used by ads. If a picture that you want to see just happens to be the same size, you will only see a blank space. To fix this, just disable the Ad Blocking in Norton Internet Security. (Zone Alarm, Symantec, F-Prot AntiVirus and Webwasher will also block ads and popups, but you have to choose that option.)

Other programs that may interfere with your web viewing are programs commonly referred to as spyware, like Gator/GAIN, Hotbar, MySearch, etc. These programs and toolbars will fill in forms for you and keep track of passwords, which is a nice feature, but you should be aware that whatever information you put in is at risk. These programs run in the background all the time, using up system resources, slowing everything down and occasionally causing your browser to crash. (They also may add icons to your desktop, change your browser settings and home page and won't allow you to change them back or add themselves to your favorites list permanently.) 

They do this so they can collect information about you, what applications you use, how often you access the Internet, where you go while you are there and so on. They use this information to customize your shopping experience i.e. serving you appropriate pop-up ads or unsolicited E-mails (AKA sp*m) for items you might wish to purchase. They also can do a nasty thing to website owners - they change the affiliate code on any advertising to their code. In other words, if your favorite site depends on income from Amazon sales to survive, they are not going to get that commission if the buyer has spyware such as SaveNow installed.

Where does spyware come from? If you share music files or photos with other users through Kazaa, Grokster or other sharing sites, download freeware/shareware applications or games using Download Accelerator Plus, FlashGet, Gozilla or NetAnts or share your computer with other users who might not be as cautious as you, you are at risk for getting caught by spyware. It downloads with the most innocuous programs (ever choose a comet cursor?), sometimes even when you don't want it to. (Ever accidentally click on a "yes" button when you meant to click on something else?) 

For future prevention, make sure software cannot just download on your computer without your permission. From the Internet Toolbar, go to Tools > Internet Options > Advanced. Make sure all options "Enable Install On Demand...." are unchecked. 

Some spyware uses "driveby downloading" which takes advantage of the Internet Explorer's ActiveX meant for easier viewing of flash sites. For more on increasing your security levels to prevent this, visit Thiefware.com.

How do you get rid of spyware? Click on your start button and you should see "settings" as one of the options.  Click on this, then open your 'Control Panel'  and click on 'Add/Remove Programs'.  Find the spyware in the list of programs, highlight it, click 'Change/Remove' and follow the prompts to uninstall it. Look for names like Gator, Offer Companion, SaveNow, Hotbar, Kazaa,eZula, Radiate, MySearch. There is a list at Spychecker.  Be aware that the spyware-supported applications will most likely not work after you have removed them. They should also be uninstalled as well.

Then run a spyware utility program like Spybot or Bullet Proof Software to make sure you removed everything. New ones are constantly being invented! Spyblaster may help prevent their download.  You don't need to download a spyware program to use a program to fill forms, save passwords or download music.  For a list of safe alternatives, visit Safer- Networking, Spyware Info, Roboform, and Google

Windows users: After you are all done, run a scandisk and a defrag. Use EasyCleaner to clean your registry.  Your computer will thank you for it!

Article By:
PhoebeMoon Web Design Solutions - www.phoebemoon.com

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