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Is this anti-virus business all just scaremongering?

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There are a lot of computer scares around. So was last week's astonishing AOL survey of what bad things people had unwittingly on their computers really real? Could it have been part of a security firm's marketing campaign?

And, look, the computers in the survey still functioned, despite live viruses on 20 per cent of them and live malware on 80 per cent. Should we not air the odd question to do with scaremongering?

Well, no? because malware/spyware/ scamware/adware/scumware does a bunch of bad stuff. There are hijacks that turn your Internet Explorer (but not, so far, FireFox) home page from the sensible 'about blank' to the difficultto-eradicate address of a porn site.

Come to think of it, I have had exactly that problem with Microsoft Messenger regularly substituting itself for 'about blank'. For some reason, only in the case of Microsoft, this is called a 'feature'.

Whatever, there is ordinary old spyware that reports back to the sleaze-merchant who slipped it into your computer about what sites you visit and what you do on the 'Net. Maybe there's nothing threatening about that. But unless you're a professional entertainer, you probably quite like to know what other people are watching you do.

The worst effect of malware is that, without you having the faintest idea, it turns your computer into a means of distributing yet more malware - using either or both your address book and your copy of Internet Explorer. You have become an agent of the spammers, helping to spam tens of thousands of other computers. The fact that such a high proportion of computers harbour all this creepy stuff is one of the reasons for the prevalence of spam. So before you complain about it, make quite sure you have cleaned spam out of your own computer with the applications I mentioned last week.

Good news for web standards. I can now get into my BT Yahoo! site using FireFox. I'm trying the access thing next with that non-Microsoft browser Opera.

sutherland. lyall@btinternet. com

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