Saturday, July 03, 2004

Browser Helper Objects et al - yeah, I'm talking to YOU!

Pardon me this fit of geekery to suggest something that might earn a place on your PC if you use MS Internet Explorer. It's only a couple of paragraphs and it's for your own good...

First, there's CLSIDs. It's something of a globally unique identifier for certain types of Windows program objects, created by a special program from Microsoft: To a very high degree of certainty, this function returns a unique value – no other invocation, on the same or any other system (networked or not), should return the same value. Program components that run in Windows as COM or DCOM objects (which applies to about everything having to do with MS Internet Explorer) have to have them. The relevant information is stashed in your registry. Among other things, Windows can "blacklist" or otherwise alter its treatment of objects based on their CLSIDs.

There exists this critter called a Browser Helper Object (BHO). For übergeeks you can look at this for more info. For the rest of us, you need to know that a BHO adds functionality to your browser. For instance, the Google Tool Bar, which I'd hate to live without, is such a critter.

But like any other neato feature of IE, some dirtbags are using them malignantly -from the above:
...there is no restriction on what a BHO can do your system; it can do anything any other program can do: read or write (or delete) anything on your system. Usually, software is installed on your system explicitly by you; when you do so, you are, in effect, saying that you trust the vendor. BHOs, however, have a history of being installed without the users knowledge (fine print notwithstanding)

Given that (a) BHOs can do absolutely anything to your system, and (b) they are often installed without your knowledge, there is a distinct potential for abuse by vendors. The problem is, until now you had no way of knowing which BHOs are on your machine, who put them there, and what they do.
. So you do care about them, and it would be nice to know more about when you have them and what they're doing for - or to - your PC.

Voila - we have BHODemon
Think of BHODemon as a guardian for your Internet browser: it protects you from unknown Browser Helper Objects (BHOs), by letting you enable/disable them individually. BHODemon is free, runs in the tray area, and works on Windows 95 or later operating systems.
. So download it already!

If you're like some I know, you're already infested with adware or worse. One answer for this is Ad-aware, from Lavasoft. Available in free or a paying version, it knows spyware and makes it easy to get rid of. Just be aware that some software you have might quit working if you disable adware willy-nilly (ya tightwad!).

Ad-aware is like treating a disease, and then there are vaccinations. SpywareBlaster takes that approach - it can prevent running known spyware from running on your PC before you even encounter it. You'll find it here.

All of the above require updates periodically, because new programs with new CLSIDs are forever coming out. It's not much trouble and doesn't take long, even on a scuzzy dialup line like I'm using right now.

Of course it goes without saying that anyone intelligent and discriminating enough to read this blog already is running a firewall like ZoneAlarm and some sort of virus/malware/Trojan checker like Norton AntiVirus. Especially if you have broadband. Right? Don't make all of us come over there and kick your butt....

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