What is Spyware?

I’m paranoid when it comes to the Internet: email, surfing, downloads, shareware, everything. And I’m not exactly a newbie when it comes to anything computer related. Last night I scanned my system with LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware and discovered ClickSpring’s MediaTicketsInstaller lurking on my computer, proof that even I can get viruses and spyware on my home systems. And that’s despite the insanely high paranoia, the firewalls, the antivirus software, the spyware detectors, the popup blocker.

So what is spyware and what does it do? Spyware is software that has been installed on your computer, usually without your knowledge. Just like regular software applications, their purposes are varied. The most common spyware applications spy on your Internet surfing habits and then deliver popup advertisements that they determine may appeal to you. That’s only slightly different from adware software that simply pop up the same specific advertisements every time, or redirect you to the same websites. Other forms of spyware actually record the keys you press, including user names and passwords, and transmit the keystroke logs to some remote computer!

Another common form of spyware uses browser “hijacking”. The software changes your start page, search pages, and other browser settings in order to force you to their website so that they will get more visits. Advertising revenue is based on the number of visits to their website. By forcing you to visit, they get more revenue. Sometimes these changes are reversible simply by going into the Internet Options menu and changing them back. But not always. More often than not, there is a combination of Windows registry settings and files hidden on your hard drive that redo your settings every time you reboot the computer. No matter how often you change your settings back, they are restored the next time you restart your computer.

I don’t worry too much about spyware or adware, because if my machine becomes infected with one of these applications, I have enough experience and knowledge to remove it without damaging anything else on my computer. It’s very much like surgery; if you make a mistake in the Windows registry during the removal of the spyware or you delete the wrong files, you can kill your patient, your Windows operating system, preventing you from booting up your computer at all!

So, take some simple precautions:

  • Install and use spyware detection and removal software such as LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware. There are many other similar applications, but so far in my experience none have detected and removed all of the spyware as easily or as thoroughly as Ad-Aware. Always make sure that you regularly download and update the spyware reference files to protect yourself against new spyware applications.
  • Once you identify malicious websites that spread spyware, add them to your Restricted Sites under the Security tab in Internet Options, preventing them from reactivating if you visit them again in the future.
  • Reset the security setting for the entire Internet (also found under the Security tab in Internet Options) to High. This may prevent some websites you know and trust from functioning properly. But you can either add them to your Trusted Sites, or very temporarily reset the security setting to Medium while visiting them.

Good luck!

Did Geocaching Save a Life?

Just inside the East Garrison gate of Fort Ord on the Monterey Peninsula, Chuck and Vicki raced down Inter Garrison Road on their racing bikes, intent on enjoying the late-summer day, the breeze cooling them off through the slits in their bike helmets. Forty minutes later, a medevac chopper lifted off the road in a swirl of dust, air-lifting Vicki 45 miles away to the San Jose Medical Center trauma unit.

A yellow Jeep geocaching travel bug (#4490) may have saved Vicki’s life.

Yesterday, at nine o’clock in the morning, I left my house in San Jose with the intent of hunting down a few of the Jeep travel bugs between home and the Monterey/Salinas area. My progress was mostly aimless and leisurely, but it was #4490 that beckoned me this far away from home.

According to the tracks in my Garmin GPSMAP 76S, I drove through the open East Garrison gate at 1:26 p.m., intent on reaching the Garrison View geocache only one-third of a mile away. As I turned the sharp right to head down Inter Garrison Road toward the cache, I spied a man in his 50s in full biking gear walking slowly toward the gate, frantically waving his arms above his helmeted head.

As I drove closer to him, I noticed that his Lycra biking shirt was torn high on the sleeve. His shirted chest was wet with a nine-inch-wide circle of sweat, splotched with flecks of blood. He explained, later introducing himself through bleeding lips and a missing front tooth as Chuck, that his wife, Vicki, had been injured and needed help. I glided to a stop to the right of the road, his wife’s motionless body only twenty feet away.

I was obviously the first on scene, and my almost unnecessary diagnosis of her poor condition led me to immediately contact emergency services. Vicki was barely responsive and lay prone, resting the right side of her face in a growing pool of blood on the light grey asphalt. The few times she gave any indication of hearing me, she was unable to remember what day it was, let alone what had happened to her. Several deep gashes ringed her face from the middle of her chin to her right eyebrow, and I was unable to ascertain whether the blood in her hair and helmet was from additional unseen injuries.

With the 911 operator on the phone, I relayed the situation and our location, and even offered to provide the exact coordinates, thanks to my Garmin GPS. Surprisingly, the lady responded that she wouldn’t be able to use the information, explaining that emergency personnel were not equipped with GPS receivers. While Chuck and I anxiously awaited their arrival, I engaged him in conversation to determine what had happened, and to keep him grounded and focused. Neither of them had noticed the gravel-filled pit on the right-hand side of the road, most likely a result of recent road work, and they had both propelled into it at very high speeds. I later noticed that Vicki’s front tire had been instantly blown by the sudden impact with the far edge of the small pit. Two small orange traffic cones ineffectively warned passers-by of the potentially life-threatening danger lurking just below the surface, and appeared instead to warn of another work area a hundred yards farther down the road.

I offered Chuck a clean towel that I always keep in the trunk of my car for Vicki to use as a head cushion, as a compress, or however he needed in order to keep his wife comfortable until help arrived, a hard lesson I learned long ago at another accident scene. Vicki occasionally attempted to move, her resulting gut-wrenching screams of agony difficult to bear. A few short minutes later, the distant whine of a siren could be heard from the west. The ambulance was on its way.

When the ambulance doors opened and the medical technicians began their slow but careful preparations for the emergency, my job was mainly done. Within another few minutes, two squad cars and a fire truck also rumbled through the garrison gate, one of the police cars skidding around the sharp turn. Once the EMTs completed their far more thorough and experienced evaluation of Vicki, the decision was made to fly her to the trauma unit in San Jose. Previously ignored by the medical personnel, Chuck’s condition was then evaluated and it was recommended to him that he accompany them for admission and treatment. The excitement built up briefly again as the chopper arrived and flew its first approach to determine an appropriate landing place, soon making a feather-light touchdown on the asphalt 300 feet from where Vicki had lain.

Once his wife had been loaded into the helicopter and was on her way to San Jose, I stepped back into the fray and mentioned to Chuck that, while it was probably the farthest thing from his or his wife’s mind, I would be happy to collect their bicycles and other possessions and take them back home with me to my home in San Jose until they arranged either to pick them up or have me drop them off at their home in Boulder Creek. He graciously and profusely agreed. We exchanged contact information, and I engaged one of the officers to help me transport the bikes and equipment to my car.

If I’d actually owned a Jeep Wrangler (a life-size version of the yellow replica travel bug #4490), I probably wouldn’t have had to take apart their bicycles, barely cramming them into both the back seat and trunk of my Saturn, lightly soiling my leather seats, the interiors of rear passenger doors, and my trunk with chain grease and blood. I collected their helmets, biking gloves, Vicki’s jacket, and pieces of her sunglasses and tossed the whole bloody mess (no pun intended) into the small trunk. My eight-year-old sedan vehemently protested as I repeatedly attempted to close the vehicle compartments without damaging the cyclist’s possessions, but I eventually won the battle.

One of the law enforcement trainees who had happened by callously spoke of the now-absent Vicki and her “messed-up” condition, vocalizing his disbelief that she would “make it”; Chuck was only feet away, strapped to a hard board in a gurney, his head and neck supported by a cervical collar. I briefly reflected on the young officer’s lack of compassion and understanding, and engaged once again in conversation with Chuck, assuring him of my commitment to the safety of his property. He smiled and thanked me.

Chuck came this afternoon to my house to pick up his bikes and equipment. For the umpteenth time, he thanked me, this time offering me money as compensation for my humanitarianism. Repeatedly I refused, but I caved with regret when he eventually stated that it would make him feel better if I took it. His wife is recovering in critical but stable condition in Intensive Care, and tomorrow she will receive flowers at the hospital thanks to his unnecessary generosity.

Looking back, Vicki was lucky. She was lucky to have worn a good helmet. She was lucky to have survived at all. She was lucky that I wanted to travel down Inter Garrison Road at 1:26 on a Saturday afternoon to be a small part of her rescue.

All thanks to geocaching and a two-inch-long Jeep travel bug, #4490.

Which, by the way, I picked up at 2:17 p.m.. about 50 minutes after turning the fateful corner…

How Does YOUR Garden Grow? (NSFW)

Madelyn loved growing tomatoes, but couldn’t seem to get her tomatoes to turn red. One day while taking a stroll she came upon a gentlemen neighbor who had the most beautiful garden full of huge red tomatoes.

She asked the gentlemen, “What do you do to get your tomatoes red?” He responded, “Well, twice a day I stand in front of my tomato garden and expose myself, and my tomatoes turn red from blushing so much.”

Madelyn was so intrigued by the idea that she decided to try doing the same thing to her tomatoes to see if it would work. So, twice a day for two weeks she stood naked in her garden hoping for the best. One day the gentlemen passed by and asked the woman, “How did you make out? Did your tomatoes turn red?” “No!” she replied, “but my cucumbers are enormous!”

One Wish a Day for Three Days

Photo courtesy of FileFap.com

A tribe of Indians capture a cowboy and bring him back to their camp to meet the chief. The chief says to the cowboy, “You are going to die. But we feel sorry for you, so we will give you one wish a day for three days. On sundown of the third day, you die. What is your first wish?” The cowboy says, “I want to see my horse.” The Indians get his horse.

The cowboy grabs the horse’s ear and whispers something, then slaps the horse on the åss. The horse takes off. Two hours later, the horse comes back with a naked blonde. She jumps off the horse and goes into the teepee with the cowboy. The Indians look at each other, figuring, “Typical white man — can only think of one thing.”

The second day, the chief says, “What is your wish today?” The cowboy says, “I want to see my horse again.” The Indians bring him his horse. The cowboy leans over to the horse and whispers something in the horse’s ear, then slaps it on the åss. Two hours later, the horse comes back with a naked brunette. She gets off and goes in the teepee with the cowboy. The Indians shake their heads, figuring, “Typical white man — going to die and can only think of one thing.”

The third day comes, and the chief says, “This is your last wish, white man. What you want?” The cowboy says, “I want to see my horse again.” The Indians bring him his horse. The cowboy grabs the horse by both ears, twists them hard and yells, “Read my lips! POSSE, dåmn it! P-O-S-S-E!”

Author’s Note

On a side note, finding a cucumber was hard enough, but do you know how frustratingly difficult it was to find a nice, wholesome, artistic picture of a nude lady riding a horse on the Internet? There are FAR too many frightening images of horribly perverted women doing really disgusting things to animals out there. Where on Earth do they find these freaks of nature, and what possesses them to generate photographic evidence of their sickening actions, let alone put them online?! Yuck!

UPDATE: At least in 2012, the right kind of wholesome “Lady Godiva” style of pictures of naked girls riding horses are much easier to find, if you know where to look.