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Spyware? Huh?

If you have any of the following symptoms, chances are you have spyware. Actually, the chances are about 90% that you have spyware and you don't realize it. To skip these boring details and to determine if you have spyware or not, visit the self-help removal section.

SYMPTOMS OF SPYWARE

  • General computer slowness
  • Pop-up advertisements* (when you are not actively browsing the Internet)
  • Unwanted, new desktop or start menu icons
  • Unwanted, new processes running in the lower right hand of the screen (some common ones include 180Solutions and Gator).
  • Changed homepage or search page in your internet browser
  • Changed desktop background
  • Your ISP does not understand why you cannot access the Internet (not a guaranteed indicator, but common)

* Some pop-up advertisements are generated from websites themselves and not from installed spyware software.

If you have any of these symptoms, visit the self-help removal section.

SPYWARE COMES FROM WHERE?

Here is a list of the most common ways to become infected with spyware:

  • Peer-To-Peer file sharing programs such as KaZaA, Limewire, Grokster, and BearShare. (The lite version of KaZaA and the paid version of Limewire are spyware-free at the time of this writing).
  • Web accelerators and "Fix All" Programs (If you cant buy it from a store, dont buy it online!)
  • Simply visiting websites of the following types: pornographic, game cheat codes, free games, and some dating sites.
  • Crack and serial programs. Illegal software. Often times websites claiming to have cracked or "illegal" software will trick you into downloading a spyware installation program instead.
  • Free programs in general. Weatherbug is a common one (the adware component is called Minibug). AOL instant messenger used to be bundled with spyware but not anymore.

The main idea is to be careful. It should be noted that not only you are a source of spyware but EVERYONE that uses or has ever used that particular computer. It should also be noted that this is a list of generalities, and as such there are plenty of exceptions. For example, Yahoo provides free games, but they are most definately spyware-free.

DEFINED

Spyware was once a term for software that spies on you in some way, but today covers a much broader spectrum of malicious software. The spying can be anything from harmless to a serious intrusion of privacy. Keep in mind that spyware mainly targets the Windows operating system. Other operating systems such as Linux and Macintosh are not as threatened. The Macintosh OS is becoming increasingly targeted however. Items in red are the more serious threats, items in orange are average (still malicious though), and items in black are relatively harmless.

TYPES OF SPYWARE (partial list)

  1. Root Kits - This is by far the most dangerous form of spyware and also the newest. It basically replaces critical operating system components with compromised/spyware versions. Removal is extremely difficult sometimes impossible, usually requiring what is called a "format" and then a rebuilding of all software on the computer including the operating system.
  2. Keystroke Loggers - This kind of spyware records everything you type and sends the information back to its creator or host. Commonly associated with identity and bank fraud.
  3. Dialers - Typically replaces your ISP settings with dial information of its own. These dialers usually will make unauthorized calls to foreign countries resulting in huge long distance charges (in excess of $100).
  4. Desktop Hijackers - Desktop Hijackers change your desktop background to a different image. The most common desktop hijacker is called SmitFraud and is also classified as a Trojan.
  5. Adware - Purpose is to bombard you with commercial advertisements usually in the form of "pop-up" advertisements. Not to be confused with the fantastic removal program called "Ad-aware".
  6. Browser Hijackers - These little devils will basically take over your Internet Explorer or Firefox. They change your homepage, search page, and other behind the scene browser defaults. Some will disable your browser altogether.
  7. Cookies - A very harmless form of spyware. Some still consider it an invasion of privacy. Cookies are small text filse that reside on your computer used by many of the popular services such as Yahoo or Amazon to provide you with a more personal experience. They are typically used for things such as recording your login name or how many times you've visited the particular site.

For more information, please visit Wikipedia's excellent informational page for definitions and history of spyware.


 


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