Spyware and Malware and Adware-OH WHY?!?

Monday, January 1, 2007 12:00
Posted in category Internet, Software

Say it out loud. Spyware. Malware. Adware. Sounds like something you’d find at a Department Store. While department stores easily clog up credit cards, Spyware and it’s brethren clog up computers on an even larger scale. Everyone inherently knows that slight mention of these terms cause a bright shiny neon red flag to appear in the brain. However, so few understand what these terms mean. Let’s understand why!

Spyware: The Silent Stalker

What is Spyware? Let’s break up the word. Spy-ware. The word “spy” is obvious, and “ware” refers to Software. So, if we put that together, we get Spy Software or Software used to Spy. That’s exactly what Spyware does. It monitors your use of the computer, whether it be which programs are used or your surfing habits on the Internet. This collected data is sent to a server somewhere in the vast Internet sea. You’ll find that much of this data ends up in the hands of marketing companies. This data can then be sold to another company as “marketing research”.

Adware: The Annoying Salesman

If you break Adware down, you get Ad Software. This type of infection likes to show you advertisements. It’s not uncommon to see one or two popup windows appear while surfing the Internet. However, if you see more than five appear, or on a reoccurring basis while not surfing the Internet, the Annoying Salesman, with the bright red “My Name is Adware” nametag has probably moved into your computer. As the advertisements are presented to someone, the company or individual that infected your computer gets a small kick-back (monetary compensation). They can make even more money when you click an advertisement to get more information. You wouldn’t be able to buy a slice of pizza for the amount of money garnered by infecting one computer. However, with tens to hundreds of thousands of computers infected, this clearly becomes a lucrative business.

Malware: The Thief hiding in the Darkness

Breaking up Malware is a bit more interesting. Mal Software doesn’t seem to make sense. However, in many other languages, Mal means Bad. It’s software with bad intentions. Malware silently installs programs on your computer. The first type or program might hunt around your computer for sensitive information. If it finds bank account, credit card or investment information it can then send all of this back to it’s dark master. It’s just like someone stealing your credit card and using it, without having to pick your pocket or sneak into your home. Moreover, these cyber thieves have learned that they can milk more money from someone via small withdrawals and charges rather than a noticeably large one.

Once infected, your computer can also be used to hurt others. An infected computer can also be known as a zombie. It doesn’t think for itself but follows the orders of its master. These zombie computers can be used to send an overwhelming amount of information to a specific computer or website located on the Internet. Sending a website much information at once causes it to malfunction. Imagine one hundred thousand computers trying to visit the same website. Very few websites can survive such an attack. Often it’s referred to as a Denial of Service (DOS) attack because once launched, other people cannot use the attacked website. In recent times thieves have threatened and extorted popular websites with this cruel abuse of power.

Now that you know all about Spyware, Adware and Malware, let’s make the rest of the article simpler and do as the rest world does. We’ll lump all three into one. From this point on, when you see the word “Spyware”, I’ll be referring to all three.

How it gets on your computer

Spyware has become a very lucrative business. Back in the “olden times”, programmers might create malicious viruses to taint, damage or destroy information on your computer system while gaining prestige. However, there was no money in this. Today, malicious programmers are able make money, and in many cases steal money as well, with each computer they infect.

There are two basic ways that malicious programmers plant spyware on your computer. The first way involves the Internet. While surfing the web, the web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, etc.) performs a flurry of activity. Web browsers interpret data retrieved and then format it into the nice looking web page, such as the one you’re viewing now. Many web browsers contain small holes that allow a website to perform actions without you knowing about it. These are called exploits. The website is taking advantage of a hole or feature within the browser.

Another common way to become infected can be while installing seemingly harmless programs. I’m not talking about Microsoft Office or Apple iTunes. Some of the most infectious Spyware come bundled with free programs. For instance, have you ever been offered free smilies for MSN Messenger? What about free ring tones for your cell phone? All you needed to do was install a program that would allow you to use the extra services. Programs similar to these, but no all, are offered free because of the return by installing Spyware along with the free software. It is important to note that you are warned most of the time, when the License Agreement (the one you have to accept before installing) does warn you that the program installs other software packages; ie Spyware. But, who reads those? They’re too lengthy; too long; too boring!

Continuing with the above theme, Spyware can become installed on your computer through scare tactics. Sometimes, while surfing the Internet, a popup will appear. It’ll look very similar to a Windows warning message. Usually, they’ll say your computer is infected with a dangerous virus or is at risk from some type of attack. When you click the button for the “free” removal or to plug up the detected holes, that’s when the Spyware gets installed and you’re trapped!

How it affects your computer

Spyware can affect your computer in a wide range of ways. Commonly, you’ll see in increased number of pop-up advertisements. Even while not surfing the Internet, Windows will open prompting you to install software or preview a website (usually naughty ones).

Once infected, you might notice a decrease in performance in your computer. This might be caused by one piece of malicious software tying up your computer for nefarious reasons. In some cases, if more than one piece of Spyware gets onto your system, they’ll fight for resources and severely slow your computer down.

Another side affect of Spyware might be identity theft. A computer contains lots of valuable information about yourself. Malware can steal credit card numbers, social security and banking records. In some cases, it can even detect what you’re typing and sent it back to the “mothership”.

The worst case scenario in any of these cases would be that your entire home or business network slows down because of the increased network traffic caused by spyware. It may be sending back data or even trying to affect other computers nearby.

Removing the Disease

Getting rid of Spyware is getting trickier every month. Luckily there are companies that are staying on top of this. Some free programs that you might consider may be Spybot or Microsoft Defender. (I’m a fan of Spybot myself.) Other programs, such as Ad-aware and Spysweeper do a great job as well, but at a cost to your wallet.

Tricky Removal

One last warning about Spyware. Some companies that bundle Spyware with their programs don’t want you to remove the Spyware. This is how they make money. So, if the software detects that the Spyware has been removed, the bundled program could stop functioning.

Conclusion

The best way to avoid Spyware, Adware and Malware is to just be careful. Avoid visiting websites on the seedier side of the web. For general surfing, use a different browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer, like Mozilla Firefox. Also, install a Spyware scanner, like Spybot, and run it on regular basis. Most importantly, be aware of what you’re installing on your computer. A quick Google Search can often times save your a lot of time and headache.

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One Response to “Spyware and Malware and Adware-OH WHY?!?”

  1. 99 Must Read Blog Post About Spyware says:

    April 24th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    […] support.wortmannfamily.com/2007/01/01/spyware-and-malware-and-adware-oh-why […]

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