Spammers apparently took control of home PC

The Baltimore Sun

When I returned from an extended vacation, I was "rewarded" with more than 400 e-mails. I noted that there were 90 e-mails in my outbox. This seemed odd, seeing that I had just turned my computer on. I opened the outbox just in time to see a number of e-mails queued up for sending. I tried to delete the bunch but was only able to stop a few before the outbox automatically emptied. Interestingly, the e-mails in question were not in my sent-box. This same phenomenon has happened several times since I first noticed it. It probably is a routine occurrence, but it went unnoticed previously. What's going on? Is it dangerous? If so, how can I stop this?

- H. McKinley

It sounds as if your machine has been hijacked by a spammer or spammers. Unfortunately, this is an increasingly common practice.

Spammers use a virus or other stealthy program to take control of your computer. Then they use that zombie computer to send out spam for them.

The benefits to the spammer are obvious. They use your computer and Internet connection to do the work. And the remote computer isolates them from legal action.

When the authorities trace the sender, they find you. Spammers that send out really ugly stuff - child porn, illegal offers and questionable prescription drugs - are especially likely to do this.

While scanning with a good anti-virus program might find the hidden program, I wouldn't count on it.

In a case like this, I would copy off the data you need, reformat the hard disk and reinstall your programs.

If that sounds like too much to handle, then take your machine into a shop and have the chore done for you.

A few years ago I put a whole-house surge protector on the house I owned at the time. It was done by an electrician and cost about $300. We moved to a new home and did not think of putting one in here. But lately after a few of my neighbors were hit by surges and had their appliances knocked out, we had the electric company put a suppressor at the source coming into the house. It costs $8 a month (it was a promotion they were doing). Now I am wondering if we should have one installed ourselves instead of using the one from the electric company?

- Gail Burd

It's hard to know since I don't know exactly what the power company installed. But if it's a whole-house surge suppressor, that's adequate.

If that's the case, then the only decision would be a consumer-finance one: whether it would be smarter to buy your own or to continue to pay the $8 a month.

That works out to $96 a year, so you would have to live in the house for a long time before buying one yourself made sense.

Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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