Is Your Computer Spying on You?

A few years ago I was studying theology in a small town in Colombia. Since at that time most people couldn’t afford cars buses were the norm for transportation. While waiting on the bus at the bus stop I noticed a man get on with a food product item for sale. He went throughout the bus handing everyone this item. Then he went around the bus once again either collecting money or getting the item back from each person. The marketing idea, I suppose, was once the product was in your hands you couldn’t resist buying it. I did!

Apparently this type of marketing, although sometimes free to the consumer, is being employed on the Internet. I turned on the computer one day and a few new program icons appeared. One of the programs running was a calendar reminder. I thought it was related to the Microsoft Works calendar reminder that I was using so I opened the program. However, the screen was totally different and didn’t contain any of my entries. I scratched my head and wondered where this program came from. Now as others use this computer I checked with them. Did they download anything? The answer was no. So I looked at Start>Programs>Startup. New programs had been added to the computer startup menu – none of which anyone added. So I immediately suspected malware – short for malicious software. So I ran Ad-aware by Lavasoft at lavasoftusa.com and sure enough – I did have a malicious program running.

What made this program malicious? First of all, it was installed on our computer without our asking for it either by e-mail or web browsing. Second, this program then began downloading other programs and installing them on our computer, again without our permission or even knowledge, bypassing even the Internet firewall installed on the computer. Now obviously the calendar reminder program it downloaded caused me no particular damage. However, who knows about other programs and from whom it would download next? Now the programs the malware downloaded seemed to be free but the way I received them certainly didn’t endear me to the software companies they came from. Colombia bus style software marketing may work with some people but not with me. Once I removed the malware with Ad-aware I further had to uninstall all the other programs it had placed on our computer. Nothing new has appeared since then.

However, I had another experience on a different computer similar to malware. I opened Internet Explorer one day to discover a "search bar" added to my usual IE toolbar at the top. It was not a search site I recognized. Now as you may have already figured out, I don’t like things changing on a computer when I haven’t been asked to change them. And "add-ons" to IE make up the majority of IE program crashes. The new search bar used a search engine I had never heard of before. So I decided to get rid of it. On IE I went to View>Toolbars. Now normally one can uncheck a toolbar and it will disappear. However, all toolbars listed were grayed out, meaning I couldn’t click on them to change them! Next I looked at Tools>Internet Options>Advanced. I unchecked "Enable third-party browser extensions." This took away the toolbar.

However, I still was concerned about this unknown toolbar software somewhere on our computer. I went into the Windows Registry and searched for the toolbar name. It appeared several times. Now my first impulse would be to delete those registry entries. However, I feared doing so would mess up IE.

I went to the website used by the search toolbar and went to the FAQ section. Sure enough – others wanted to uninstall this thing. Now the company claimed that if IE was altered by them it was because the customer wanted it. I never "wanted" it. I was fortunate in that I could download a program to uninstall this toolbar – and it actually worked.

Now Microsoft has noticed that certain people are exploiting Windows and IE. Some "holes" malicious hackers use were meant to be helpful, like IE add-ons. Windows XP SP2 update contains many security enhancements and feature additions and I encourage you to download it, when it becomes available. If you have set Windows Update to "Automatic" you will be notified when this update is available. The new IE will now have a "Manage Add-ons" feature. Any Add-on to IE can be disabled. It will include an advanced popup blocker as well as a download blocker that will analyze attempted downloads to determine whether they were the result of user interaction or some deceptive practice. In the latter case, the toolbar will notify the user of the attempted download and offer the opportunity to make a decision. IE by default will be set to the highest security settings.

With current versions of Windows security settings are scattered all over. Windows XP SP2 update will have a single security control panel. Red and green lights will indicate the security level of individual settings – you can probably guess a red light would not be good!

Hopefully, Microsoft will make these updates available to other versions of Windows. All this added security should make Internet surfing what it was meant to be – useful, informative, and fun but still safe!

Now all of us have deceased and living persons whom we would like to have Masses offered for. Let’s look at some online sites that offer this or information about it.

A good place to start is the Carmel Mission of St. Charles Borromeo which offers information explaining Mass intentions and stipends at carmelmission.org/massintention.htm and a short article by Fr. Paul Turner at rpinet.com/ml/2803bi2.html.

The Society of the Divine Word takes Mass intentions at svd-ca.org/holymass.htm and asks for an offering of $15 per Mass.

You can request Mass cards and pick them out online through the Capuchin’s at capuchin.com/sma/MassIntent/MassIntent.htm. Mass intention requests are sent to their missionaries throughout the world. An offering of $5.00 per Mass is requested.

The OFM Franciscan Missions takes Mass intentionsat franciscanmissions.org/MassForm.htm to help support the 5,000 Franciscan missionaries around the world. An offering of at least $10 is asked per Mass. The online form allows for a novena of Masses and Gregorian Masses.

The Augustinians of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova offer Mass Cards online that will be sent to you to fill out and send to the recipient for a $5.00 offering at augustinian.org.

Many more sites with Mass offerings can be found under my Religious Men category at monksofadoration.org/religmen.html.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org