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Spyware

Spyware is software that tracks personal information about you and transmits that information to third parties. Quite often, spyware installs itself along with software that you knowingly want to install on your PC. Sometimes spyware is installed automatically by unscrupulous people exploiting weaknesses in your computer system, or your lack of knowledge regarding your own computer security.

What types of spyware exist?

Adware

Adware tracks your purchasing habits. Companies devise schemes to get you to install their software by offering something that you do want, piggybacking it on the desired software. It is normally harmless, but it can slow your computer down.

Web Bugs

Web Bugs are a kind of adware that tracks your habits and transmits that data to a third party. That third party will then infest your computer with pop-up ads. Although intrusive, they are normally harmless.

Proxy Adware

Quite insidious, Proxy Adware tricks consumers into agreeing to allow all inbound and outbound traffic from their PC to be rerouted through the marketers' servers. All information, even SSL encrypted transactions containing sensitive information such as Online Banking passwords and credit card transactions, are at risk.

Trojans and other Malware

Trojans are most commonly used to deliver worms, viruses, and other forms of malicious code (often referred to as "malware") to PCs. The worst type is called a RAT, or Remote Access Tool. A RAT enables an attacker to have complete control of your PC.

How Does it Happen?

As mentioned above, many types of adware are installed as a result of user consent - the user simply did not read the disclosure included with the download.

Trojans are normally installed by a malicious prankster or criminal, existing solely to gather personal information. This happens as a result of the user clicking on a link in an e-mail, which in turn runs an executable attachment, or links to a web site program that downloads and executes a program. In some cases, just visiting a malicious web site and viewing a page is enough to silently download and execute a spyware program onto your PC.

Prevention

  • Regularly update and patch your browser and operating system. Unpatched, vulnerable PCs are easily and quickly exploited.  Avoid installing unknown or untrusted software. Many pirated software packages are infested with spyware.
  • ALWAYS read the disclosure of any software you download from the Internet.
  • Review your list of trusted root certificates on a regular basis.
  • DO NOT click on embedded links in e-mail. They can take you to malicious sites and put you at risk.
  • Use a firewall that controls both inbound and outbound traffic.
  • Install anti-virus software. Make sure it is self-updating.
  • Install anti-spyware software. Run it often and update it regularly.
  • Use a spam blocker.

Resources

Although we do not promote or recommend one product or web site over another, use the list below as a starting point for your research.

Definitions

  • Virus
  1. Program that attaches itself to other files or file system structures
  2. Spreads by the movement of files or media
  3. Can attach to the boot-sector or other files
  • Worm
  1. Capable of propagating to other systems
  2. Frequently does not require user intervention
  3. Exploits unpatched vulnerabilities
  • Trojan
  1. Cannot propagate independently
  2. Performs unexpected, intentional functions
  3. Spreads by appearing to be appealing software (screensaver, game, etc.) or data (photos, music)
  4. Takes advantage of a lack of security awareness on the part of users
  • Spyware
  1. Monitors user actions
  2. Collects sensitive information - behavior, passwords, system configuration
  3. Shares the information with a third party via your Internet connection or dialer

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