What You Need to
Spyware, the Alexa Toolbar,
Free Software, & Anti-spyware Programs
How the Alexa Toolbar Created Havoc
with Internet Explorer and My Whole System
First published in 2004; updated April 2011
See also: Reader Mail
and Alexa's Response
by Barbara Brabec
When I got involved on the Web in 2000 and moved from a DOS computer to Windows
98, I had no idea that I would eventually be spending more time coping with
Internet and computer problems than I would actually be working on my business.
Until I switched from using Windows 98 to Windows XP, I seemed to spend at half
of every working day at the computer weeding out junk mail, downloading patches
for Microsoft products, and trying to solve my latest computer problem. Like
everyone else, I still have to trouble-shoot one computer problem after another,
but for the most part they're easier to fix these days.
For a long time, I didnít realize I might be creating some of my computer
problems myself. Take free software, for example. Why do you think so many
companies want to give us free software? They do it only because they know they
will get something back if we accept their offer. In this case, "free" comes
with extra baggage, such as advertising banners that we can get rid of only by
upgrading to the professional paid edition of the software. Free programs also
come with spyware, baggage most of us can't get rid of without the help of
anti-spyware software. As I have learned from experience, some spyware can run
quite a lot behind the scenes, causing one's system resources to be lowered.
I learned from Smart Computing magazine that spyware is usually
planted on our computer systems without our knowledge. It may arrive as a
malicious e-mail attachment or be hidden within a commercial, freeware, or
shareware application weíve installed. As one of my computer pals explained in
my early days on the Web, "The big
problem with spyware is that it usually isn't something you know about. Someone
hypes a free program or system, you use it, and they never tell you that instead
of charging you they are transmitting (selling) your data to other companies for
use in their advertising campaigns. The creators of these free programs include
banner ads or tracking devices that give advertisers information about your
surfing statistics, in exchange for using the program for free. That way, they
still get paid for the program--not by you, but by advertisers who purchase your
Downloading a free software program doesnít usually affect the way our
computer systems operate, but you may have noticed that all End User License
Agreements (EULAs) specifically state that the manufacturer wonít be held
responsible if problems do occur. Iím not suggesting that we stop downloading
free software; only that we pay more attention to the company offering the
software, and what weíre agreeing to in the user license. These agreements are
always so long and boring that we seldom take time to read them before clicking
"I accept." If we did, we might discern the providerís ulterior motives.
My Costly ALEXA Toolbar Experience
If youíve been invited to download
the Alexa toolbar, I suggest you consider passing on this particular
freebie. While looking for new affiliate programs to add to my site three years
ago, I stumbled across the "Alexa Associate" toolbar offer that told me I could
earn affiliate income through their association with Amazon.com simply by
encouraging others to download this free toolbar from my site. When my visitors
did that, my affiliate code would go with their download, and every time they
used their Alexa toolbar to search Amazon.com in the future, I would get a
commission on any purchases they made. Since I was an Amazon.com
affiliate at that time, I thought this sounded like a good deal, so I downloaded the toolbar
and was planning to add it to my site when, all of a sudden, I began to have
serious problems with Internet Explorer.
Every time I had more than one browser window open and tried to close it, IE
would lock up, often making it impossible for me to exit other programs as well.
I kept getting messages that my system resources were too low to open a
program--something I've never had a problem with before. And, in most cases, I
couldnít reboot or shut down and was forced, several times, to just press the
shut-off button. After doing all the usual things, such as defragging, checking
for viruses, cleaning out old temporary files, dumping cookies, etc., I called
Gateway (the computer I was using at that time) for assistance. As usual, their pat answer was, "Youíll have to reformat
your hard drive and reload Internet Explorer." I told them they might as well
stick a knife in my heart because I didnít have the time or energy to do that
then (or ever).
the free Opera browser so I could continue my work on the Web, I called
an online computer repair service for help. After checking my whole system and
finding nothing wrong, they told me to ignore Gatewayís advice and look instead
for Registry problems or spyware that might be gumming up the works. They
confirmed the advice given to me by a friend who suggested that I download
free version of Ad-Aware, an anti-spyware program that scans oneís hard
drive system for files, cookies, and other spyware that may have been planted
while surfing the Web or downloading files.
At that time, I was using Norton Antivirus and AVG for virus checking, and
running Ad Aware once a month, usually at the same time I did a major full
computer backup. It always turned up objects on my computer even when I hadn't
downloaded any new programs or opened any email attachments, so I figured I must
have picked up these things from from Web sites I had visited."
Until I ran the first Ad-Aware scan on my computer and turned up 150 "objects"
that had been planted there, it didnít dawn on me that my problems with Internet
Explorer had begun only after I had downloaded the Alexa toolbar. Alexa
describes itself as a free search and navigation companion that accompanies you
as you surf, providing useful information about the sites you visit without
interrupting your Web browsing. Since it implants itself on the Internet
Explorer toolbar, youíd think it would work okay with this browser, but in my
case it caused serious problems. Of the 150 objects discovered by the Ad- Aware
scan, 46 were Rootkey files planted in my Registry by Alexa--and all of these
"files" were transmitting data back to Alexa about my Web-surfing habits.
Curiously, when I had tried earlier to remove the Alexa program from my
system using the add/removal tool in my control panel, I got a message saying a
certain file couldnít be found, so I couldnít delete the program. But the
program finally disappeared from view after Ad-Aware removed all the Alexa-planted
Rootkey files from my registry, along with all the other unwanted spyware files
and cookies planted there by others. That took care of my Internet Explorer
At the time I was having this problem, there was a lot of discussion on
Internet forums in 2004 about IE crashes. Now there are more than a million pages on this
topic, and the article you're reading now comes up No. One on Google. (Just Google "Internet Explorer crashes" to turn them up, and add "Alexa"
to the keywords for different pages. See below for some pages I found of
interest when I originally posted this article.)
At this time, I didn't find any evidence that the Alexa Toolbar was crashing IE;
all I knew for sure was that my computer problems started only after I
downloaded this toolbar, and disappeared as soon as I got rid of it.
If you like the Alexa toolbar and want to push it on others, be my guest. I'd
like to generate extra income, but this is one affiliate program I'm not going
to push on MY readers because I don't like to be spied on and I'm sure they
don't, either. More important, if this caused my IE problems, it may be a
problem for other computer users, too.
In 2011, I started using CA eTrust Internet Security Suite to protect my computer. It
includes superior anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-spyware protection, plus a
personal firewall that was a real pain in the neck to "train," but proved to be
effective. I stopped using Norton's software after
Norton SystemWorks crashed my Gateway
computer, and after publishing that article, I began to get messages from
many others who had experienced the same problem.)
At the time I posted this article in mid-2004 about my problems with Alexa's toolbar, I anticipated getting mail from some readers saying there was nothing
wrong with the Alexa toolbar, that it was proving to be a profitable affiliate
program for them, and that it couldn't possibly have been the reason for my
problems with Internet Explorer and my system lockups. I did get some mail like
this, but I also got reports from computer users who agreed with me, and I
still continue to receive occasional reports today from computer users like Paul, who shared his Alexa toolbar experience with me in April 2011:
"Thanks for your helpful articles on Alexa. I have been doing a lot of
SEO work for the past few years. Each and every time I download the Alexa
toolbar to help make it easier for me to view my Alexa ratings for the
websites Iím working on, my computer mysteriously begins having unexplained
IE crashes and failures to launch, so I uninstalled the Alexa toolbar as
thoroughly as possible.
And then, just to confirm my previous suspicions, I downloaded the Alexa
toolbar about three weeks ago on three of my work computers (different
offices), and immediately began experiencing multiple crashes every day. So
today when I used ComboFix.com to completely remove it from my computers,
all the IE crashing stopped immediately.
I searched the web to see if anyone else was experiencing the same
results with Alexa as I have had, and among other posts, I found yours. Itís
surprising, however, that there is not a lot more chatter about the problems
created by Alexa. Thanks again for your beneficial service and website!"
RELATED ARTICLES ON THE WEB:
"Is Alexa Spying on You" at
More information about the Alexa Toolbar and how to remove it, from
Feedback from Readers HERE.
Read Response from Alexa's
Customer Service Dept.
Computertalk Home Page]
Copyright © 2000-2013
by Barbara Brabec
All Rights Reserved
Barbara Brabec's World