What specific kind of pop-ups are you seeing? There are at least
three varieties of pop-ups, and the solutions vary accordingly.
1) Does the title bar of these pop-ups read "Messenger Service?"
This type of spam has become quite common over the past few years,
and unintentionally serves as a valid security "alert." It demonstrates
that the computer user hasn't been taking sufficient precautions while
connected to the Internet. The user's data probably hasn't been
compromised by these specific advertisements, but if he/she's open to
this exploit, he/she may well be open to other threats, such as the
Blaster Worm that swept across the Internet years ago and the Sasser
Worm that followed shortly thereafter, both of which can still be
contacted. Install and use a decent, properly configured firewall.
(Merely disabling the messenger service, as some people recommend, only
hides the symptom, and does little or nothing to truly secure the
machine.) And ignoring or just "putting up with" the security gap
represented by these messages is particularly foolish.
Oh, and be especially wary of people who advise the user to do
nothing more than disable the messenger service. Disabling the
messenger service, by itself, is a "head in the sand" approach to
computer security. The real problem is not the messenger service
pop-ups; they're actually providing a useful, if annoying, service by
acting as a security alert. The true problem is the unsecured computer,
and the user's been advised to merely turn off the warnings. How is
2) For regular Internet pop-ups, you might try the free 12Ghosts
Popup-killer from http://12ghosts.com/ghosts/popup.htm, Pop-Up Stopper
from http://www.panicware.com/, or the Google Toolbar from http://toolbar.google.com/. Alternatively, you can upgrade your WinXP
to SP2, to install IE's pop-up blocker. Another alternative would be
to use another browser, such as Mozilla or Firefox, which has pop-up
blocking capabilities. (But I'd avoid Netscape; it carries too much
extraneous AOL garbage.)
3) To deal with pop-ups caused by any sort of "adware" and/or
"spyware," such as Gator, Comet Cursors, Xupiter, Bonzai Buddy, or
KaZaA, and their remnants, that you've deliberately (but without
understanding the consequences) installed, two products that are
quite effective (at finding and removing this type of scumware) are
Ad-Aware from www.lavasoft.de and SpyBot Search & Destroy from www.safer-networking.org/. Both have free versions. It's even
possible to use SpyBot Search & Destroy to "immunize" your system
against most future intrusions. I use both and generally perform
manual scans every week or so to clean out cookies, etc.
Additionally, manual removal instructions for the most common
varieties of scumware are available here:
Neither adware nor spyware, collectively known as scumware,
magically install themselves on anyone's computer. They are almost
always deliberately installed by the computer's user, as part of some
allegedly "free" service or product.
While there are some unscrupulous malware distributors out there,
who do attempt to install and exploit malware without consent, the
majority of them simply rely upon the intellectual laziness and
gullibility of the average consumer, counting on them to quickly click
past the EULA in his/her haste to get the latest in "free" cutesy
cursors, screensavers, "utilities," and/or wallpapers.
If you were to read the EULAs that accompany, and to which the
computer user must agree before the download/installation of the
"screensaver" continues, most adware and spyware, you'll find that
they _do_ have the consumer's permission to do exactly what they're
doing. In the overwhelming majority of cases, computer users have no
one to blame but themselves.
There are several essential components to computer security: a
knowledgeable and pro-active user, a properly configured firewall,
reliable and up-to-date antivirus software, and the prompt repair (via
patches, hotfixes, or service packs) of any known vulnerabilities.
The weakest link in this "equation" is, of course, the computer
user. No software manufacturer can -- nor should they be expected
to -- protect the computer user from him/herself. All too many people
have bought into the various PC/software manufacturers marketing
claims of easy computing. They believe that their computer should be
no harder to use than a toaster oven; they have neither the
inclination or desire to learn how to safely use their computer. All
too few people keep their antivirus software current, install patches
in a timely manner, or stop to really think about that cutesy link
they're about to click.
Firewalls and anti-virus applications, which should always be used
and should always be running, are important components of "safe hex,"
but they cannot, and should not be expected to, protect the computer
user from him/herself. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon each and
every computer user to learn how to secure his/her own computer.
To learn more about practicing "safe hex," start with these links: