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Do you know what SPYWARE is?



It is normal to see pop-up ads while surfing the net, right? What a lot of people don’t realize is that those ads could have made their way onto their computers through spyware.


By the time that you figure out what is behind the ads, the spyware pop-ups may

have gotten so bad that your only choice is to completely reconfigure your computer and just hope that the pop-ups don’t come back. And, if your only mechanism to fight against the spyware is hope, the pop-up ads will return.



WHAT IS SPYWARE EXACTLY?


Spyware is a type of software which gets onto your computer and is generally used to gather your personal information and then send advertisements to you, normally in the form of a pop-up ad. Spyware software can also change your computer configuration as well as many other potentially harmful things. Even though the term spyware may suggest that the software is simply monitoring action in a secretive way, the purpose of spyware usually goes well beyond this. The party responsible for creating and distributing the spyware are often profiting greatly through targeted advertising or selling off your personal information.


When spyware software is on a computer, it generally is hidden from the user. In 2005, a study carried out by AOL and the National Cyber-Security Alliance showed that 61% of user’s computers were infected with spyware. Of all of these users, 92% of them were not aware that their computers were even infected. 91% of the users claimed that they had not granted permission for the spyware soft-ware to be installed. Since then, spyware has become increasingly sophisticated and is often impossible to detect on a user’s computer. Even worse, once detected, some spyware is impossible to remove.



DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPYWARE and Adware


The terms spyware and adware are often used interchangeably. Both of these terms are used to describe software which can display advertisements. However, there is one major difference between these two: spyware gets onto the user’s computer through illicit means.

With adware, the user agrees to have the adware program installed in exchange for something else. For example, the program Eudora will allow users access to shareware for free but they must agree to receive advertisements. The key word here is “agree.” Adware will not attempt to mislead users and is offered in exchange for a service.


An example of adware includes the file sharing program Eudora. Rather than asking users to pay a registration fee, it asks them to agree to receive advertisements. On the other hand, Gator software is a type of spyware. When users visit certain websites, spyware is installed on the users’ computer through some sort of deceptive manner. The company behind Gator as well as the website where the spyware was installed will both receive revenue.



HOW IS SPYWARE DIFFERENT FROM VIRUSES & WORMS?


Today, there are an incalculable number of “health” problems that a computer can be at risk for. Generally, these risks can be broken down into spyware, viruses and worms. It is easy to confuse these different types of computer prob-lems because they have many similarities.


Spyware, viruses and worms all get onto a user’s computer with permission or by using deceptive means. Once on the computer, they cause harm to the computer and impair functions. Spyware, viruses and worms are all designed to be difficult, if not impossible, to detect. They often are designed in a certain way that prohibits them from being removed in normal manners. Recently, there have been many viruses and worms which have been, as spyware is, created for profit.


Compared to viruses and worms, spyware is a relatively new problem. Viruses have been around since the 1980s and worms almost as long. Spyware didn’t become a major issue until 2000.


The major difference between spyware and viruses and worms is that spyware doesn’t seek to replicate once on your computer. It also doesn’t seek to infect other computers. Both viruses and worms, on the other hand, actively replicate themselves and can spread to other computers through means such as email.


Another big difference between spyware, viruses and worms is objective. Spyware is always used for some form of monetary gain such as through advertisements. Modern viruses and worms can also be used for monetary gain. However, viruses and worms are often created in an attempt to gain fame.


Some virus and worm creators have claimed their motivation was to show how far virus creation has advanced. Other creators desire to “outdo” the creators of anti-virus and anti- worm software. As in the case with the Bagel and Netsky viruses, the creators of the viruses wanted to outdo each other.


Additionally, viruses and worms are often created specifically to do damage to a computer through a type of web espionage. An example of this is the Conflicker worm which spread in 2008. It made its way into the defense systems of France and Britain as well as about 15 million computers around the world and creating severe damage to the computers’ health. Spyware, however, does not want to cause severe damage to the computer. That is because it relies on the computer’s health in order to send advertisements to users.



IS THERE A SPY-VIR-ORM HYBRID?


It is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between spyware, viruses and worms. As all three of these computer health issues become increasingly sophisticated, they have taken on properties of one another and often rely upon one another for functioning.

There are many instances when spyware is spread through a virus or visa versa. There are also many instances of spyware, worms or viruses creating openings for other types of harm to enter a user’s computer. Because of this crossover between the spyware, viruses and worms, it is important that countermeasures are taken against all forms of computer infections.


CAN I JUST IGNORE SPYWARE?


Because spyware doesn’t progressively destroy a computer’s functioning like viruses and worms do, it may be possible to simply ignore the fact that your computer is infected. Many people figure that it is better to simply keep closing all those annoying pop-up ads rather than bother with antispyware software, some of which can be very expensive. Ignoring the fact you have spyware is a temporary solution but it can end up costing you in the long run.


Much of the spyware software now will disable firewalls, disable anti-virus software, and change browser security settings to low. This allows for further infection of your computer by other spyware soft-ware or viruses and worms. At first, you may just have a few pop-up ads. Later, this may progress to the point where the pop-ups come faster than you can click to close them or your computer is getting destroyed by a cocktail of viruses as though your computer has an immune deficiency disease.


Spyware software makers were aware that this change in security settings would allow other spyware to get into the computer. Because spyware companies are in competition against each other, some spyware actually destroys other spyware which is on your computer.


This also keeps users from taking action against spyware because the problem never seemingly gets too bad. The spyware maker Avenue Media actually sued one of its competitors called Direct Revenue because the company disabled its spyware. The two companies settled the dispute by agreeing not to disable each other’s products.


Aside from the lowered security settings that many spyware programs create, you may have gotten a virus or worm with your spyware in a bundled package. This cocktail of computer infections can do serious and even irreversible damage. Even if you don’t have an additional problem other than spyware, you can never be sure exactly what the spyware is doing and what information of yours it is accessing – such as your credit card numbers.


By ignoring the threat of spyware, you are setting up your computer for a potential disaster. Antispyware programs can be very expensive however, if you take the time to educate yourself, there are plenty of free antispyware programs. Even if you opt for the paid versions, it is better to spend that money now than to pay to have your computer completely reconfigured in the future after the spyware problem gets out of control.


WHAT DAMAGE CAN SPYWARE DO?


Bombards You with Advertisements


Spyware is known for displaying advertisements, usually in the form of pop-ups. Each spyware software program works a bit differently with its advertising. Some display ads every couple of minutes, for example, while others will display every time you open a new browser window. The newest trend amongst spyware is to track what the user is doing online. Then, this information is relayed so specific, targeted ads are displayed. For people vulnerable to advertising, these targeted ads can be a great threat.


These pop-up ads can be a great nuisance. Also, pornography pop-up ads are a very common issue with spyware and they are considered particularly heinous because children could be exposed to the porn ads.


Another way in which spyware may advertise is to take over the banner ads. Instead of seeing the advertisement which the site’s creator put up, the viewer sees a spyware ad instead. Because many websites are funded by ads, the spyware is stealing profit from the website owner as well as annoying the viewer with the banner ad.


SLOWER COMPUTER


When a computer is infected with spyware, it must process the spyware applications. All of the tasks that spyware can do from displaying pop-up ads to tracking users are very demanding on a computer’s system. This results in the computer going slower and sometimes drastically slower. If the spyware problem gets out of hand, it is possible for the computer to crash because it can’t handle all of the applications that are being requested from it.


IDENTITY THEFT and Fraud


True to its name, there are new versions of spyware which can literally spy on the user. The spyware will take pictures of the websites that a user visits and then relay the pictures back to the spyware source. Since website pages can contain banking informa-tion and other personal information, spyware can lead to identity theft. These types of spyware are rare but they still exist. With dial-up internet access, there is also the risk of wire fraud. This occurs when spyware resets a modem to dial up numbers at a premium rate rather than the usually number for the ISP. This results in large phone bills for the user.


CHANGING Settings


One of the common things that spyware does is to change a computer’s configurations. Generally, the web browser homepage will be changed along with the search engine. Spyware can also change security levels and even prevent a user from installing or running antivirus or antispyware programs. Once these changes have been made by the spyware, it is usually very difficult to get the settings back to normal.


VIRTUAL SPYING

Spyware has been used to virtually spy on people in several cases. In some cases, spyware was put onto a computer so that the activity of the user could be monitored. The software Loverspy is an example of this type of spyware which was marketed towards people suspecting that their spouse/partner was infidel. There are also instances when spyware was used to turn on webcams so the spyware operator could spy on the user. Depending on the areas where it is used, this type of spyware monitoring may be illegal, even if used by a spouse.


HOW DOES SPYWARE GET ONTO YOUR COMPUTER?


You Install It


In most cases, spyware gets onto your computer besort of free program or file online, you download it and it comes bundled together with spyware. This is also the case with shareware. For spyware creators like Claria, which is the largest spyware company, this method of spyware transmission is very prof-itable. Claria had revenues of $35 million just last year.


Spyware as a profitable business really began to surge when free internet applications became available online. Since applications such as Web browser, email, and instant messaging were free, it didn’t take long before users expected free software as well. Software makers were having a hard time selling software for even low prices and they had trouble battling against illegal file sharing as well. Instead of trying to increase sales, the software makers decided to offer free soft-ware but include spyware bundled with it.


A spyware company will pay a software company for every time the software is installed. Then, the spyware uses targeted ads on the user. When a user clicks on the ad or makes a purchase through the ad, the spyware company profits.


People of the Web VS Spyware


An example of this is the free file sharing application Kazaa which comes bundled with spyware from the company Claria. Kazaa gets paid by Claria every time its program is installed. Then, the Claria spyware creates targeted pop-up ads for users and profits each time one of those ads is clicked on. If you visit the Dish Network homepage, a pop-up ad for DirecTV will appear.


This method of spyware distribution occurs with all sorts of free downloads including software and file sharing. Often, the terms and conditions for downloading a free application will mention that spyware is included with the download. However, not many people take the time to read through the terms and conditions. It is also common for the information about spyware to be deceptively hidden in a very long and confusing terms and condi-tions statement. The downloader simply clicks “Accept” and gets the spyware.


FAKE WINDOWS SECURITY Boxes


To start downloading spyware, sometimes all it takes is a click of a link. One of the most common ways that spyware makers get users to click on their links is by disguising them as Windows security boxes.


The boxes look just like a normal Windows security box. However, when you click on them, the link causes your security settings to change and spyware to be installed on your computer without your knowledge. For example, a box might read, “Optimize your internet access.” Even if you hit the “No” button, you will still trigger the spyware.


SECURITY HOLES


If you do not have high security on your computer, you run the risk of spyware finding its way inside. Some of the newer spyware programs have even learned to find their way through holes in fire- wall and antispyware software. Spyware is often distributed with a virus. First, a virus is sent to a computer. Instead of replicating and possibly destroying a computer’s system like a normal virus, its job is instead to create a hole for the spyware to enter.


There are several other illicit ways in which spyware can enter a computer. For example, there are spyware programs which are spread through emails. Even if the email gets tagged as potentially dangerous and the user doesn’t read it, the spyware can still be spread just by having it displayed in a preview pane.


HOW TO PREVENT SPYWARE


Because there are so many different ways for spyware to enter a computer, it is almost impossible to avoid infection. Avoiding certain activities, such as downloading, can reduce the risk but there are still many ways for spyware to enter. That is why preventative and real-time counteractive measures need to be taken.


The first step to preventing spyware infections (and re- infections after spyware is removed) is to educate yourself. By understanding why spyware exists, you can start to identify possible threats while you are online. So, if you skipped the first five chapters of this eBook, now would be a good time to go back and read them before contin-uing on.


RESEARCH BEFORE YOU Download


Even though downloading any sort of free file or software is one of the biggest risks when it comes to getting spyware or other computer infections, most people are not going to stop downloading. There are simply too many desirable free programs and files out there. However, you can greatly reduce the risk of an infection by researching the freebie first.


Whenever downloading free software, type its name into a reputable search engine along with the word spyware. Chances are, if that program comes bundled with spyware, you won’t be the first to get it. If you type in “Kazaa spyware” into Google, for example, the first several pages of results all mention the infamous spyware as well as how to remove it.


CHANGE YOUR SETTINGS


Some of the preventative steps against spyware are very simple to take. For example, you can use Mozilla Firefox instead of Microsoft’s browsers which have several security holes which are easy for spyware programs to enter through. Also, switching to a Mac or Linux operating system will greatly reduce your risk of various computer infections because most are targeted at Windows. However, this is not such an easy change to make.


You will also want to change your Security Zone settings on Internet Explorer to block harmful sites. The settings have the options of listing sites as Trusted, Restricted, Local Internet, or Inter-net. If you list a site as restricted, you are still able to visit that site but the security settings will prevent the site from harming your computer. Some antispyware tools like Spyware Blaster and Spybot Search and Destroy will add automatically add harmful sites to the restricted setting.


If your computer internet is connected to a dial-up modem, you will want to unplug the modem when you aren’t using it. This will prevent spyware from committing dial fraud by calling premium numbers.



WHAT IS ANTISPYWARE & HOW DOES IT WORK?


There are a few different types of antispyware software. The most common type will run a scan of your computer and determine if there are any spyware programs there. You can usually choose how often the scan will be done such as on a daily or weekly basis. Generally, these are the areas which get checked in a spyware scan:

  • Window’s registry Operating system files

  • Files which have been installed through programs

Some antispyware scanning software will allow you to do “smart scans” where only the computer files which are commonly infected with spyware will be scanned. This type of scan is much faster than a full scan though it is not as accurate.


If spyware software is detected on your computer, there are anti-spyware software programs which will attempt to delete them. There are also antispyware software programs which will work in real time to block any attempts to infect your computer as they happen.

The real time antispyware blockers work in a few different ways.

Some of them have mass lists of known spyware software which they will automatically block. Others will locate any suspicious program which is attempting to download on your computer. The antispyware blocker will not automatically block the download. Rather, it will send the user an alert. Then the user can make a choice as to whether to allow or deny the download.


There is also antispyware software which will intercept programs that attempt to install startup items or change browser settings. The best antispyware protection comes from having all three of these elements: detection through scanning, spyware removal, and real time protection.


Many computer security software programs contain antispyware programs. However, do not assume that they do. It is important that you are getting full coverage against spyware and many of the computer security software programs only fight against viruses and worms.



CAN I USE “ALL-AROUND” COMPUTER SECURITY SOFTWARE?


When a virus enters a computer, it can do a lot of damage, especially in terms of overall health. Once the “immune system” of a computer has been harmed by a virus, it

becomes much easier for other forms of malware to enter the system. Some viruses are even specifically designed to penetrate a computer’s security simply to make a hole for spyware to enter. Because of these factors, it is important that your computer also have antivirus in addi-tion to antispyware software.


Many people have the mistaken belief that their antivirus or computer security software contains antispyware software as well. However, this is often not the case. Many antivirus makers are reluctant to include antispyware at all. That is because they worry that their antispyware could block a legitimate software or advertising program and then they would be subject to a lawsuit. Even when antispyware is included with an antivirus, it is generally not enough protection.


In some cases, with more virulent pieces of spyware, Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro's antivirus applications were unable to fully purge the software from the infected machine. Although the system was reported as clean, the spyware reactivated after a reboot.”


Because the awareness and risks of spyware have increased, there have been some major improvements in the development of all-around computer protection. However, it is still best to have separate antivirus software to accompany your antispyware software.


There are a lot more free antispyware programs available with new ones constantly becoming available. However, it is important to note that many of these are not completely effective in preventing or removing spyware. Usually, they each have a few loopholes which spyware makers are aware of and exploit stall. There are an increasing number of fake antispyware software programs out there and they all apn, the user is tricked out of money and may also have his/her credit card information stolen.


In another scenario, users are tricked into downloading software which is completely free. Instead of getting free antispyware, this software actually contains spyware.


KEEP IN MIND that there is no one best antispyware software program. Rather, it matters which antispyware is best suited for your needs. Here are some factors you should take into consideration:


How easy is the antispyware to use?

Does the antispyware come with customer support? Will the antispyware slow down your computer?

Is the antispyware effective in prevention? Is there real time prevention?

How effective is the software in spyware removal? Do you need to update and, if so, are updates free or not? What scanning options are there?

Does the antispyware include antivirus as well? How much does the antispyware cost?


Almost all antispyware software today comes with a free trial period. It is highly recommended that you take advantage of this option in order to see how you like the antispyware before you decide to buy it.


Novum IT solutions with SentinelOne singularity platform, provides the protection to your enterprise from attacks at an infinite scale.


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