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Be Web Wise


So you love to surf the internet and it is certainly the best way to access vast amounts of information and resources in the shortest possible time. A real bonus is how much of it is free. - Graphics, browsing tools, desktop themes, screensavers and even software programmes that can make your life a a whole lot easier or are simply cool for jazzing up your website or PC.

BUT ... Do you know how expensive some of these freebies really are? Do you always read the fine-print or do you simply do what most people do? - Scroll down with an impatient "yeah-yeah" and click "I agree". After all, those things all read the same and go on forever, so why bother.

- This is exactly what they're counting on.

Some free sites are genuine, but many are no more than data-collection points, tracking your IP, collecting your email address and even downloading a lot more onto your PC than you counted on.

Not all internet businesses get their information (or business) honestly, but rely on software that you have inadvertantly downloaded with a freebie. The exact purpose and function of the software will vary, depending on their objectives, but the basic principle is the same: you have something on your computer that a) you did not knowingly install and, b) is monitoring what you are doing and sending information about you (or your PC) back to "big daddy". This information and the now open portal to your computer can be used however they choose and you are none the wiser.
The worst case I have ever heard of was an automatic dial-up to a USA rate-loaded phone line. The call occured while the unwary PC owner was asleep and lasted for over 4 hours. By the time his phone account arrived at the end of the month, the deed was long done and he had little option but to pay and then try to track down the auto-dialer's source in the hopes of recovering the thousands of rands the call cost him. Needless to say, this process became so involved and costly in itself, that the victim simply cut his losses in the end.

You don't even need to surf or download to pick up one of these little nasties. They can arrive via email as well. Protect yourself!

Basic things to look out for:

When downloading anything or subscribing to anything, read the fine print and what it says about your information being given to "affiliates". Not everything that looks professional and honest, is.

If you do decide to download, check what programmes have come bundled with whatever it is you are downloading (where possible). If there is more than one application file, rethink the download.

When downloading, create a new folder on your desktop and download into this. Once the download is complete and you have closed your connection, it will be easy to see exactly what downloaded. If there is more than one programme and you were not warned of this by the download site, treat it with suspicion.

Double check self-installing software. This is where the unwanted "extras" can sneak in without you even knowing.

Try this: when you're online, close down all your browser windows and email client for a moment. Now open up your dialer window. (at the bottom right of your screen there is a little picture showing two small green boxes that are joined by black lines. When you are online, these flash. If you double-click on these, an information box will open up in the middle of your screen. This is your dialer and shows you how long you have been on line as well as whether you are sending or receiving information).

If you are still sending and receiving, there is a chance that you have one of these programmes on your PC.

Get yourself a good piece of anti-spyware software to clean it off and protect your PC from any others that may come in.

Safe (yes, free, highly effective AND safe) anti-spy software called "Ad-Aware" can be downloaded from here. Various other types of safe software can be found at tucows, some of which is free and some is "try and buy".

New articles and a list of related resources will be added to this section on a regular basis, compliments of The Webmaster.

If you would like to comment on the above article or suggest any internet or web-related topics of interest for inclusion in this section, please email us


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