Silicon Insider: Hijacked on the Information Superhighway

Sometimes the simplest questions are the best ones.

We tend to get so bound up in the complexities and nuances of a problem that we are left standing in mute, stunned amazement when some kid asks why the Emperor is buck naked.

Right now, as I type this column on my IBM laptop, in Internet Explorer, which connects to my Comcast Broadband, the left column, where the "Favorites" list is supposed to be, has been hijacked by an alternate listing. This listing, which comes up every time I link to a new site, changes regularly. Right now it is listing correspondence courses and home education programs. The other day, while my oldest son was researching the Battle of Shiloh, it promoted a list of porn sites.

I respond to it, like most people, by studiously ignoring it -- which means that every time I want to jump to another site, I click on the "Favorites" star icon, jump to the new site, then watch the phony list pop up again. How often do I do this each day? Oh, probably 50 times. There's nothing I can do about my AOL e-mails, which now automatically highlight key words ("adult," "business," etc.) as links to advertisers -- I can only hope the recipients of my mail don't actually link to them.

Meanwhile, every time I turn on my computer, I'm hit with a series of alerts from my McAfee security software that some of my key Windows files have been corrupted by viruses, which in turn have been safely deleted -- until the next time. The McAfee software always offers to check the rest of my programs, which I do regularly, but the problem is never found. Microsoft chimed in by downloading its security software into my computer as well -- but it hasn't done much good.

Spam Is the Enemy of Productivity

Since I started typing this column today, my work has been halted six times by pop-ups, which appear on my screen unannounced and block my view. Some I can remove by clicking on the x-box in the corner of the window, others try to trick me by using multiple windows, or pretending to be, ironically, anti-pop-up software. I could, in theory, block all of these pop-ups, but then I would spend an equal amount of time each day unblocking them to get to the contents of certain Web sites.

Every couple of months, I take my computer down to Daniel, a Korean computer genius, who charges me a hundred bucks or so -- more than my 2-year-old computer is probably worth -- to scour my computer of all viruses and spyware. My newly cleaned machine then runs like a bat out of hell for about a week before new viruses and spyware begin to gum it up once again. I intend to take my computer to Daniel again this afternoon, as soon as I finish typing this.

My wife hasn't been so lucky. Except for e-mails, she scrupulously avoids the Internet, fearing that a virus will attack the household and tax records that reside in her laptop. However, the other day, my oldest son, whose Alienware machine has completely crashed (another C-note to Daniel) asked her if he could use her computer to download some guitar tabs.

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