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Security Center: Spyware Horror Stories

Teen drama queen

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OK, I've been using computers since I was really, really little (as I'm only going to be 16 this October) and my dad's a computer genius. Well, for one birthday a few years ago, my dad got me a new computer and that's when I learned the traumas of trial and error. Because I played tons of online games like Neopets (and more recently AdventureQuest), I had installed tons of free antispyware programs like Ad-Aware SE, McAfee, and ZoneAlarm. (All from CNET Download.com, since my dad says only it and NewEgg are safe.)

Well, then I met LimeWire, and here is where things get rocky. I was looking for nice HTML editors, so I could work on my Web site, and I found Dreamweaver 6.0. When I tried to run setup, though, I got an error message. It's probably just a corrupted download, I thought, so I left it alone.

Later I started getting into anime and I wanted music for the fan site Anime Music Videos, so I went to untrustworthy LimeWire and downloaded "Teenage Drama Queen." Again with a corrupted file. Soon after, I installed a keygen to some Adobe product, but then when I rebooted in the morning, my computer began shutting down and rebooting itself for an hour before I did a full system recovery. I lost all files, but so what? It worked.

Afterward, I again added my computer to the network without my dad finding out. Then I remembered I had to reinstall all my programs, though I forgot ZoneAlarm while bookmarking some sites. In the end, I've had to recover my system twice and I now defragment my computer once every two weeks and run antispyware scans. I vow that LimeWire will never become an obsession.

Not so for BitTorrent. I was too impatient to wait for the sixth Harry Potter book to come in the mail, so I downloaded it from BitComet and BitTorrent. I was so excited I forget to scan it, and what do you know? Tons of ads, that's what! I deleted BitTorrent and BitComet and ran my antivirus programs. All over and done with.

But there's more! My 10-year-old sister used my computer and downloaded the Zango toolbar, which she explained she needed to play a game, from Flashradium.com. No matter, I proceeded to uninstall it. I turned off the computer and fixed it up later by uninstalling everything (again). So far I've been fortunate enough not to get a keylogger or a sleeper virus, though computers are always prone to them, especially through chain mail and keygens.

So far I have been completely virus-free for a year and stick to my routine. I also have a legit copy of Dreamweaver 8, Nero 7, and Flash, and am saving up for Sony Vegas 7.

Reply from the Download.com editors:

File-sharing is always a toughie. Even when files are transported legally, unpleasant outcomes can befall the recipient: corrupted or incomplete files, annoying bundled adware, or a malware hitchhiker.

The first time you performed a system recovery, it's pretty evident that malignant, unregulated LimeWire files were to blame. LimeWire itself isn't malware and didn't support the malware pest. However, LimeWire doesn't moderate files that swim through its server; users accept them at their own, sometimes sizable, risk.

You hit another wall by forgetting to scan the file. Although moderators of torrent sites are known to quickly follow up on miscreants, you should always double-check files that originate from unknown sources.

Your third reformatting occurred when your sister downloaded Zango, a piece of adware that tracks your surfing behavior but does not capture your password or personal data. While Zango is irritating, it alone hardly warrants a complete system overhaul. Good system scanners will catch and remove all instances of Zango, a 180 Solutions variant, from the processes, registry key, DLLs, and program files. If you're not sure, a Hijack This log will reveal the traces and an Internet search will pull up Zango-specific removal tools if your regular antispyware programs haven't removed it.

We're glad you've gone legit, Emily. Many freeware alternatives are available to satisfy the software sweet tooth, and they are almost always a safer bet than poached serial codes and keygens. CNET Download.com editor Seth Rosenblatt, for example, has a list of programs to make a homegrown version of Adobe Creative Suite 3. Check out CNET Download.com for more free alternatives to your favorite apps.

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