Stop Spyware with Microsoft’s AntiSpyware Beta

Poll just about any IT professional and ask them what their
biggest headache is, and the answer will be the same: spyware. Viruses and
hackers can do damage, but spyware is much more widespread, and even thought
it’s not deadly, it can slow down users and be annoying. Many companies have
tried to solve this problem, and now Microsoft has put its foot down too.
Here’s a look at Microsoft AntiSpyware and how it can help reduce the threat of
spyware in your organization.

A beta? Who cares?!

We don’t often talk about Beta software as being used in a
production environment. Microsoft has worked pretty hard in making AntiSpyware
solid, and it has some compelling features that make it worth a look even as a
beta.

First, you can configure Microsoft AntiSpyware to
automatically update itself. Other popular anti-spyware applications like
Spybot and AdAware require you to manually update them before they run. This is
important because much like anti-virus software, if your anti-spyware
signatures are out of date, your software is useless.

Second, Microsoft AntiSpyware will scan for spyware activity
on a real-time basis. Most anti-spyware software requires you start them and
run them to find spyware. If you don’t scan often enough, your computer can
become infected and cause damage until you remove it. Microsoft AntiSpyware takes a page from virus
scanners and runs in the background, looking for spyware activity. When it detects something fishy, it will
display a warning box in the lower left hand corner of your screen.

Microsoft AntiSpyware runs on Windows 2000 Professional
computers or later, including Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. If you’re
still running Windows 9x, you’re out of luck.

Obtaining Microsoft AntiSpyware

You can obtain Microsoft AntiSpyware by downloading it
directly from Microsoft’s
Web site
. Microsoft AntiSpyware is offered as part of the Genuine Windows
program, which means that before you can download it, you must first validate
that your copy of Windows XP in genuine.
You do that by clicking the Continue button next to the Validation
Required title on the Web page.

You then must download a run an ActiveX Control from
Microsoft that checks to make sure you have a legitimate copy of Windows before
allowing you to download the program. Once your copy has been validated, you
can download Microsoft AntiSpyware freely. It’s only 6.5Mb, so it won’t take
too long to download.

Author’s Note

Microsoft created the Genuine Windows Program in an effort
to encourage people not to pirate Windows. By offering Microsoft AntiSpyware
for free, as well as other programs and updates, Microsoft hopes to bypass the
sharing of Windows XP and security keys over the Internet. Windows Product
Activation (WPA) was supposed to stop Windows piracy, but it hasn’t completely.

Installing and configuring Microsoft AntiSpyware

To install Microsoft AntiSpyware, run
AntiSpywareInstall.exe. This will begin the installation Wizard. This wizard
runs like just about every other Windows installation you’ve ever done. You can
just accept all of the defaults. At the end of the Wizard select Launch
Microsoft AntiSpyware.

When Microsoft AntiSpyware starts, you’ll see the Microsoft
AntiSpyware Setup Assistant appear as shown in Figure A. Here you’ll configure
Microsoft AntiSpyware before you can use it.

Figure A

Before you can use Microsoft AntiSpyware, you must configure it.

Start by downloading the available updates. Remember, unless
you keep Microsoft AntiSpyware updated, it won’t be effective. It may actually
be worse than running no anti-spyware software at all, because outdated
software lulls you into a false sense of security. To that end, as part of
downloading updates during this step, you should make sure you enable the
AutoUpdater.

Next as you can see in Figure B, you can enable Microsoft
AntiSpyware’s Real-Time Security Agent protection. This will protect your
computer as it runs, but be aware that it can also impact system performance.
If you have a workstation with low resources, you may not want to enable
real-time security. Select Yes and click Next.

Figure B

You can configure Microsoft AntiSpyware to scan constantly for spyware
activity.

You’re then asked if you want to join the SpyNet Community.
This is supposed to inform other computers in the network when spyware has been
encountered. Microsoft encourages you to do so, but it’s purely optional.

The last step of the configuration is to run a scan. Click
Run Quick Scan Now. You’ll want to do
this to remove any spyware that’s already on your system.

Running Microsoft AntiSpyware

As you can see in Figure C, Microsoft AntiSpyware runs very
similarly to an anti-virus program, scanning memory first, then programs on
your hard drive and the system registry.

Figure C

Microsoft AntiSpyware operates much like anti-virus software.

When the scan completes, you’ll see a scan similar to the
one in Figure D. This will show you how many pieces of spyware the program as
found and how long it took to find it.
When you close this screen you can then treat the spyware that’s been
found.

Figure D


Microsoft AntiSpyware displays results.

For each piece of spyware found, you have four choices:

  1. Ignore: Ignore the scan results for this scan and take
    no action.
  2. Quarantine: Move the spyware to a safe
    place but don’t’ delete it.
  3. Remove: Remove the spyware from your system.
  4. Always Ignore: Ignore the scan results
    and don’t report this item as spyware in the future.

Select the choice from the dropdown list box and click
Continue. If you use System Restore, you
can create a Restore Point by selecting the Create Restore Point checkbox.
Doing so may help you recover in case you accidentally remove something
important. After Microsoft AntiSpyware finishes, your system should be
spyware-free.