Inside Ad-Aware SE

1. Introduction

Ad-Aware SE is an anti-spyware/adware software product developed by Lavasoft (lavasoft.com). The purpose of this application is to detect aggressive advertising, Parasites, Scumware, selected Keyloggers, selected traditional Trojans, Dialers, Malware, Browser hijackers, and tracking components. It can be installed on Windows 98, 98SE, Win ME, Win NT 4, Win 2000, and Win XP Home/Professional.

Ad-aware SE is available in four different versions – Enterprise, Personal, Plus and Professional. The Enterprise type is for corporations and it can provide centralized protection control for an entire network of computer users. The price is determined by the number of users and the length of the maintenance period (1,2 or 3 years). 10-25 users for 1 year is worth $28,45. The Pro version is for advanced home users and it’s priced at $60 for one year licence. Information on the Plus variant can be found here http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad-aware_se_plus.php. Ad-Aware SE Personal can downloaded from the official site for free at http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad-aware_se_personal.php.

In order to fully understand Ad-Aware SE, you must have an idea of what Spyware and Adware is. According to the definition given by Wikipedia.org, spyware is a broad term describing malicious software designed to intercept the data transferred from your computer to the internet, or to take partial control of the operating system without the knowledge of the machine’s owner or legal user. Adware is a type of software, or a module attached to another software that displays different pop-up windows with advertisements, while you browse the Internet, and sometimes even if you are not browsing the Internet.

Spyware can not only track down your online activity for marketing purposes, it can work as a keylogger recording everything you type with your keyboard (including Credit Card numbers) and then send that to someone over the internet. Adware means ‘advertising-supported software,’ programmed to download and display advertising material to the infected computer. Quite often, spyware and adware can get mixed up in the same application, so it’s not uncommon for spyware to act as an adware as well, or the opposite.

2. Types of scanning

Ad-Aware SE scans your memory, registry, hard, removable and optical drives. There are four scanning methods available to choose from – SmartScan, Full System Scan, Custom and ADS Scan. The SmartScan is the fastest one, but it’s not that detailed and reliable. When you scan your system for the first time, logically you would want the Full System Scan and then use the SmartScan on a daily basis. Once a month you should do a Full System scan, while the SmartScan must be performed every day.

Here is how you can make a Full System Scan. Of course, you should start by downloading the software from the official website and install it, if you haven’t done that already. Go to [http://www.lavasoft.de/support/download/]. Prior to running the installation, close down as many running programs as you can. Another must do is the Update. New anti-spyware and adware definitions are released almost every day, so you must make sure have them. Once you have the application installed (version 1.06r1 or above), click on the link saying ‘Check for updates now’ above the start button or the globe icon and the upper right corner. If Internet connection is available and you have configured your firewall to allow Ad-Aware SE to access the internet, it will connect to Lavasoft server and check if any updates are available. You will be asked for confirmation before anything is installed.

If you have to update the definitions manually, you can download the reference file itself from [http://www.lavasoft.de/ls/reflist.zip]. Unzip the folder and move it inside your Ad-Aware SE folder, choose ‘Ok’ when asked to over-write it.

Speaking of versions, the latest one is Ad-Aware 2007 Beta. You have to register at http://www.lavasoft.com/support/securitycenter/beta_applications.php, so that you can download it.

The way that Ad-Aware works is similar to a virus scanner, scanning files in search for known variants of spyware and adware. If it finds something, it notifies you an sends the file to a quarantine where it can be deleted. The Professional version has more features as you can set where to scan, how to scan, what actions must be performed on the files. It also gives you the option to have not just one, but several definition files so that you can truly customize your scans. Ad-Aware professional also allows you to add plug-ins, such as a hex-viewer, so that you can see in hex-decimal system that code of the corrupted files.

3. The Ad-Aware SE Tools

A very useful tool that comes with the Ad-Aware SE is the Process-Watch. As the name suggests, it allows you to view the name, handle, class name, process id and path of all the programs that are currently running on your Windows OS. Another interesting part of it is the Module section that shows you all the Dynamic Link Libraries that are currently being used by the processes in your system. But Process-Watch is not just for viewing, you can use it to stop a given process, and their associated modules. You can unload a given module, but first make sure that it’s not a system module that is required for Windows to operate normally. Take into account that by default Process-Watch lists only those running processes that are connected to visible windows on the users desktop. If you want to see the rest of them, including all background processes, un-check the “Limit To Visible Windows”

All these features make the Process-Watch a must have for all advanced users of the Window OS that want to know more about what’s really going on ‘under the hood’ or troubleshoot the system.

Ad-Watch is a real time monitor that comes with Ad-Aware SE (Plus and Pro versions). I adds an extra layer of protection to the OS, running silently in the background it watches for malware that attempts to modify your system. Ad-Watch prevents the installation of Adware and Mallware, instead of trying to detect them after they have been installed. If Malware/parasites are detected, Ad-Watch pops up, unloads the particular module and launches Ad-Aware. Click on the Popups button if you want to stop the occurrence of a given adware. For example, an adware keeps popuing up containing the url – ‘girl-3.com’, then you can go into the Popups menu, click on ‘New Url’ and enter the partial or complete URL of the browser window that pops up. Have in mind that this feature only works with Internet Explorer.

4. Removing infected files

Once the scanning process is finished, Ad-Aware SE displays a list of the infected files (if any) on the system. At that point, it is up to you to decide which ones you delete. If you are unsure about whether or not you want to remove a given file, you should quarantine it. This will create a back up copy of the file before it’s deleted. In that way, you can restore the file later on. By default, all of the infected files found by the application, are selected. Click on the ‘Next’ button to remove them. To make a copy of a given file, select it and press ‘Quarantine’.

Browser Hijacker is malicious piece of software that reset the home page of your Internet Explorer browser to website which advertises something. When Ad-Aware SE detects this type of adware, and you delete it, the home page will be blank until you change it manually, because the application didn’t know what the home page was before the adware changed it.

5. Ad-Aware SE plug-ins

There are all types of plug-ins available for Ad-Aware SE. The plug-ins are designed to enhance the application and increase the level of protection it provides. Some of the are paid, while others are free. If you want to download the official plug-ins for Ad-Aware, visit http://www.lavasoft.com/download_and_buy/plugins_for_ad-aware/.

The plug-in installation process is simple. First you have to extract the executable from the downloaded archive, then you run it following the installation instructions. The installer will handle finding your Ad-Aware plug-in folder and automatically install it for you. The program must be closed when you are installing the plug-in. On the next start, you will be able to see the plug-in in the ‘Add-ons’ section.

One of the plug-ins that you can download for free is the HexDump 2.0. It supports all versions of Ad-Aware SE and its function is to display a hexadecimal version of cookies detect during a scan. The HexDump also provides an “English” translation of the hex code.

FileSpecs is another interesting plug-in, designed to output additional information regarding the files found during a search, such as file name, location, size, create date and date of last modification.

LSP Explorer is a module compabtible with all editions of the software and stands for Layered Service Providers. This tool allows you to view the active Service Providers on your system, with detailed info for each of them. Once you install it, run the Ad-Aware Se and click the Add-ons button. You will see LSP Explorer listed in the first tab called Tools. Click on it and press OK when asked to execute this tool and you will see a dialog containing a list of the Name Service Providers.

If you install any of those plug-ins, you will be able to see them by clicking the Add-ons button, Extensions tab.

6. Save download

A very common way of distributing adware or spyware is by attaching it to a totally legitimate, even anti-virus type of application. Therefore, make sure that you download programs from well known, legitimate and respected websites.

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Source by Cedric Bardon