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SPYWARE - Know your enemy

Aug 17, 2007
Spyware is a term that has become quite common to hear.

But what kind of program is it really?

It can be explained as, a broad category of malicious software designed to intercept or take partial control of a computer's operation without the "known" consent of that machine's owner or user .

The term is being used quite loosely and includes a number of different programs. The thing they all have in common, is that they monitor the computer and/or user and share information with a third party. With or without the consent of the computer's owner.

Malware has become widely used and they manifest themselves as software, plugins or help files to other programs you want or need, and if you accept their policies and term of usage, you also accept the fact that these malware programs will be installed and used.

They are normally not directly malicious as are the secret spyware, but they do send out information from your computer to a third party. Most commonly some kind of habit tracing or statistics of surfing or similar. In most cases the information is completely anonymous and do not pose any kind of threat to you as an individual.

Is it a virus or not?

Spyware differs from viruses and worms in that it does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware - by design - exploits infected computers for commercial gain.

Typical tactics furthering this goal include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements; theft of personal information (including financial information such as credit card numbers); monitoring of Web-browsing activity for marketing purposes; or routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.

These things are very hard to keep track of and to know if one of these programs is alive in your computer or if pop ups and other changes in your surfing programs behaviour should occur as a part of a good process is almost impossible to know.

The only reliable way to know if an evil programa is living and thriving inside your computer, is to install and use a good spyware removal program.

Common ways of infection?

They do not spread like a computer virus or worm. Instead, spyware installs on your computer through deception or exploitation of software vulnerabilities.

Trojan horses!

A Trojan horse, by definition, smuggles in something dangerous in the guise of something desirable. So malware often hide as an add on to some other program you really want.

Bundled Installations

It can also come bundled with shareware or other downloadable software, as well as music CDs. The user downloads a program (for instance, a music program or a file-trading utility) and installs it, and the installer additionally installs the spyware. Although the desirable software itself may do no harm, the unwanted software does.

Manipulating Security Features

Another way of distributing all kinds of intrusive software is by tricking users by manipulating security features designed to prevent unwanted installations. Internet browsers like Internet Explorer for example are easy targets t this method. Everybody has them and use them online almost daily. The way you protect yourself against this, is to always keep your operating system up to date when it comes to security updates.

Use Microsoft Update regularly (and often).

Examples of Software to avoid

As with computer viruses, researchers give names to spyware programs which frequently do not relate to any names that the writers use. Researchers may group programs into "families" based not on shared program code, but on common behaviours, or by "following the money" or apparent financial or business connections.

For instance, a number of the spyware programs distributed by Claria are collectively known as "Gator". Likewise, programs which are frequently installed together may be described as parts of the same software package, even if they function separately.

It is also important to know that different anti spyware program creators and big antivirus software creators may have different names for the save spyware. This can cause you to believe that you have 2 or more malicious products installed when you actually only have one, but mentioned with different names.

* CoolWebSearch, a group of programs, installs through the exploitation of Internet Explorer vulnerabilities. The programs direct traffic to advertisements on Web sites including coolwebsearch. To make this happen, they display pop-up ads, rewrite search engine results, and alter the infected computer's hosts file to direct DNS lookups to these sites.

* Internet Optimizer, also known as DyFuCa, redirects Internet Explorer error pages to advertising. When users follow a broken link or enter an erroneous URL, they see a page of advertisements. However, because password-protected Web sites (HTTP Basic authentication) use the same mechanism as HTTP errors, Internet Optimizer makes it impossible for the user to access password-protected sites.

* 180 Solutions transmits extensive information to advertisers about the Web sites which users visit. It also alters HTTP requests for affiliate advertisements linked from a Web site, so that the advertisements make unearned profit for the 180 Solutions company. It opens pop-up ads that cover over the Web sites of competing companies.

Toolbars from any other then the big players like Google, Yahoo, Msn and similar very often contains spyware to some degree today.

And even the big guns have started to incorporate "spyware like" statistics gather from their toolbars. They do tell you about them, and ask for your permission to install or active these routines. But they often do it in such a convoluted way, no one actually understand it.

So start out the day by cleaning your computer and then working. Make sure you have a restful safe day, download, scan and clean your computer from any bad or malicious software today ...
About the Author
Kenth "The Designer" Nasstrom writes about spyware , and other non wanted software. You should find out how to remove unwated software from your computer now and reduce the risks.
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