Monday, August 31, 2009

Spyware What is it?


Spyware is any application that collects information about your computer activities and then sends that information to another individual or company without your knowledge or permission. Spyware often arrives bundled with freeware (free) or shareware (trial) programs, through email or instant messenger, as an Active X install, or by someone with access to your computer. Once on your drive, spyware secretly installs itself and goes to work. Spyware can be difficult to detect, and difficult (if not impossible) for the average user to remove.

Spyware can:
• Track your online surfing habits, profile your shopping preferences, gather personal information (age, sex, etc, possibly credit card info, PIN numbers)

• Send your email address to the company/person that made the spyware; that company/person can now send spam to your email account.

• Decrease your connection speed/hog your internet connection by sending information about you and your computer to the company/person that made the spyware

• Hijack your web browser’s start page, bombard you with pop-up advertisement boxes
• Run in the background and slow your computer down, alter important system files, make your computer unstable and crash

Spyware comes in many flavors including:

• Trojan Horses

As mentioned previously, Trojans are malicious programs that appear asharmless or desirable applications. Trojans are often designed to cause loss or theft of computer data. Some Trojans called RATs (Remote Administration Tools) allow an attacker to gain unrestricted access of your computer whenever you are online. The attacker can perform activities such as file transfers, adding/deleting files or programs, and controlling your mouse and keyboard. Trojans are generally distributed as a desirable program or file, in email attachments or bundled with another software program.

System Monitors/Keyloggers

System monitors are applications designed to monitor computer activity to various degrees. These programs can capture virtually everything you do on your computer including recording all keystrokes, emails, chat room dialogue, web sites visited, and programs run. System monitors usually run in the background so that you do not know that you are being monitored. The
information gathered by the system monitor is stored on your computer in an encrypted log file for later retrieval. Some programs are capable of emailing the log files to another location/person. System monitors can be installed by someone that shares your computer, or come disguised as email attachments or "freeware" software products.

Dialers

Dialers are a type of software typically used by vendors serving pornography via the Internet. Once dialer software is installed, the user is disconnected from their usual Internet service provider and then redirected by the dialer program to call into another phone number where the user is billed per minute. Dialers do not "spy" on their intended victims, but these malevolent programs can rack up significant long distance phone charges, costing victims time and money.

Adware

Adware is advertising-supported software that displays pop-up advertisements whenever the program is running. The software is usually available via free download from the Internet, and it is the advertisements that create revenue for the company. Although seemingly harmless (aside from intrusiveness and annoyance of pop-up ads), adware can install components onto your computer that track personal information (including your age, gender, location, buying preferences, surfing habits, etc.). Most advertising supported software doesn't inform you that it installs adware on your system, other than through a buried reference in a license agreement. In many cases the software will not function without the adware component. Some Adware will install itself on your computer even if you decline the offer.

Adware Cookies

Cookies are pieces of information that are generated by a web server and stored on your computer for future access. Cookies were originally implemented to allow you to customize your web experience, and continue to serve a useful purpose in enabling a personalized web experience. However, some web sites now issue “adware” cookies, which allow multiple web sites to store and access cookies that may contain personal information (including surfing habits, user names and passwords, areas of interest, etc.), and then simultaneously share the information they contain with other web sites. This sharing of information allows marketing firms to create a user profile based on your personal information, which they then sell it other firms. Adware cookies are almost always installed and accessed without your knowledge or consent.

A list of some common spyware programs:
• Bonzai Buddy
• Comet Cursor
• Download Accelerator
• Go!Zilla
• Gator
• Hotbar
• Huntfly
• Lop.com
• Web3000 programs
• Xupiter Toolbar
- Spyware components can also be found in many popular file-sharing programs such as KaZaa, BearShare, LimeWire, iMesh and Grokster.

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