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 arrives bundled with freeware or shareware, through email
or instant messenger, just clicking on a WEB page, or by someone
with access to your computer. Once on your drive, spyware secretly
installs itself and goes to work (this is called Hijacking). Unlike
traditional personalization or session cookies, spyware is difficult
to detect, and difficult (if not impossible) for the average user
Spyware comes in many flavors including:
Trojans are malicious programs (or viruses). Trojans are designed
to cause loss or theft of computer data, and to destroy your system.
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 the mouse and
keyboard. Trojans are generally distributed as email attachments
or bundled with another software program.
System Monitors/Key loggers
System monitors are applications, most likely a virus, 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.
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 via buried
reference in a license agreement. In many cases the software will
not function without the adware component. Some Adware can install
itself on your computer even if you decline the offer.
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 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
it contains with other web sites. This sharing of information allows
marketing firms to create a user profile based on your personal
information and sell it to other firms. Adware cookies are almost
always installed and accessed without your knowledge or consent.
How to protect yourself
Just because you are running an anti-virus (AV) program doesn’t
mean you are protected. A file called “Virus Definition file”
is updated regularly when new viruses appear. This file needs to
be installed on your PC every time the updates occur. Most AV programs
require that you purchase a yearly subscription to do this. If you
are an FDU student, you can download and install Norton Anti-Virus
with automatic virus definition updates for free. It can be downloaded
Even if you are up-to-date with your Anti-Virus program, because
of flaws in Microsoft’s operating systems, your computer may
still be vulnerable. Each time Microsoft discovers a flaw, they
publish updates on their web site that can be downloaded and installed.
To update your computer, start Internet Explorer, click on “Tools”,
and then click on “Windows Update”. Follow the instructions
to install critical updates.
On Windows XP machine, it is a good idea to enable “Automatic
Updates”. Right-click on “My Computer”, and then
click Properties. A “System Properties” window opens,
click on the “Automatic Updates” tab. Put a check mark
in the box “Keep my computer up to date….. Select “automatically
download the updates, and install them on the schedule that I specify.
This is my personal favorite. There is a file on your system called
the hosts file. You can use a hosts file to block known spyware
Internet locations. You can download, free of charge, a spyware
blocking hosts file. For more info, go to: http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm
Once spyware has been installed on your computer it can be difficult
to remove manually. Several programs are available which will scan
through your computer and remove spyware automatically.
Spybot Search&Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org/)
Similar to anti-virus software, these programs need to be updated
regularly with the latest software.
A good software firewall will protect your computer from being attacked.
It will block attacks from a remote location and also block software
from hijacking your computers network connection. Windows XP has
a firewall built in. It is recommended that you use one of the following:
Tiny Personal Firewall (http://www.tinysoftware.com)
Norton Personal Firewall (http://www.symantec.com/sabu/nis/npf/)
McAfee Personal Firewall (http://us.mcafee.com/root/package.asp?pkgid=103)
Zone alarm (http://www.zonelabs.com)