THE MAGAZINE

Exterminating Online Pests

By Peter Piazza

Threats to your computer can range from gnatlike annoyances such as pop-up ads to the pointed hooks of pernicious phishers. PC Pest Patrol: Protect Your Computers from Malicious Internet Invaders, a new book from Preston Gralla, shows how to trap these invaders in a protective web that keeps your computer running smoothly and your personal information safe.

Gralla writes frequently on security problems that face the average computer user and on the simple and low-tech solutions available. Here he has written a text that should be on the bookshelf of anyone concerned with keeping a home or office computer free of digital pests.

He starts with an overview of the problem in his chapter tellingly titled “Your PC Is Not Your Own,” which emphasizes the dangers. Online pests, he writes, “can track everything you do online and build personal profiles of your likes and dislikes. They can scam you of your credit card and banking information, steal your identity, and potentially cost you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of lost time.”

Once he’s gotten your full attention—and it’s likely that he’ll have it after you finish that first chapter—he explains the host of invaders that can cause you pain. His descriptions of technology are not intended for seasoned system administrators; the explanation of ports, for example, is only a brief sentence long. Instead, he spends his time on providing hands-on solutions, “scary spyware statistics,” checklists, links to free and pay products, and opinionated sidebars about subjects like Microsoft’s use of potentially risky ActiveX controls.

Gralla and the team at publisher O’Reilly know how to appeal to a nontechnical audience. Graphics and illustrations abound; important notes are highlighted in yellow (in fact, some full pages are bordered in yellow); and boldface arrows set other critical data apart from the rest of the text.

An appendix called “A Field Guide to Pests” breaks down each type of threat into a few paragraphs’ worth of explanation. By the time the book is on your shelf there will likely be new threats to beware of, but Gralla’s tips will help ensure that any new pests are swatted before they can sting your computer.

The book is available at the O’Reilly Web site for $24.95. A sample chapter from the book is available via SM Online.

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