Security threats are everywhere. The threats we are focusing on this time are the inadvertently installed applications known as adware, spyware, and malware. If you use a computer that has access to the Internet then you are vulnerable to get infected with these kinds of applications. In order to help you, we have provided a brief definition of each.
Adware is software that generates advertisements such as pop-up windows or hotlinks on web pages that are not part of the actual web page.
Spyware is software that collects and transmits user specific behavior and information, with or without permission. Sometimes, permission to collect and transmit is assumed to have been given simply by the act of installing software or loading a Web page.
Malware is short for malicious software. It comes in different forms but its main intent is to cause harm to your computer. The damage can vary. Typical forms of malware are computer viruses and worms.
How do you get it?
There are many ways that you can get infected by adware, spyware, and malware. Most infections occur without your direct knowledge.
- It can be installed with another program. Many free programs install some form of spyware. They may or may not tell you that they’re doing this. If they do tell you, they will do so in the license agreement.
- It may be installed behind your back when you visit a web site or click a link, especially advertising links or those that say you won something.
- Sometimes an e-mail or web site may make you think that you need to download something in order to view what they have to offer. For example, an e-mail may say that someone sent you an electronic greeting card but that you need to download a special viewer to see it, or a web site may say that you need to download a special “media player” to view their site.
- It may pretend to be something essential, helpful, or desirable: Spyware may masquerade as some type of security warning, a “free virus scan,” or even a spyware removal program to get you to click on it.
What does it do?
Spyware does all sorts of things, ranging from being merely annoying to being criminal and malicious. It may do any and all of the following:
- Use up your computer’s system resources, memory, and Internet bandwidth, making your computer and/or Internet connection slow
- Delete, modify, or disable files, folders, programs, and essential Windows components and services.
- Use worms, trojans, and “back doors” to open your computer to further invasions and these programs may also install software to enable your computer to be a “Host” or commonly known now as a “bot”. Bots are everyday normal computers that send, collect and analyze information all over the world.
- Use your computer to send spam – yes, really! It’s estimated that 80% of the world’s spam is sent by “zombie” home computers infected with “spam trojans” which were installed by spyware or worms.
- Conflict with other programs, causing your computer to crash or freeze up.
- Hide the presence of other parasites, and protect them when you try to remove them.
- Install “keyloggers” which record your keystrokes, that is, they record everything you type.
- Steal your passwords, credit card information, and other personal data to be used for identity theft.
- Monitor your web surfing habits and record the web pages you visit. They relay any of this collected data back to its makers and sell it to other companies.
- Collect your e-mail address and make you the target of spam (junk e-mail)
- Pester you with pop-up ads, even if you have pop-ups disabled in your web browser
- Hijack your web browser and change your home page, add favorites/bookmarks, or redirect you to other sites without your permission. Usually directing you to websites that get paid for each visit.
Spyware’s ability to do all of these things is a real security threat to your computers at work and home. It can lead to data loss, damage to legitimate software, slow network performance, reduced productivity and worst of all, identity theft.
How can I avoid getting it?
- Do not install anything you are not familiar with, especially if you did not specifically seek out and download the software yourself.
- Do not click on ads, offers, security warnings, or “you won!” alerts on web pages, especially those that appear in pop-up windows.
- Before installing any software that you are not familiar with search online to see if it is considered spyware.
- Try to stick with visiting only trusted websites.
What to do if you think your work computer is infected?