What You Need to Know About Spyware

Learn what spyware really is, how it can infect a computer, what it does, and how you can protect yourself: Internet ScamBusters #101

Today’s issue is about what you need to know about spyware — what it really is, how spyware can infect a computer, what spyware does, and how you can protect yourself.

The inspiration for this spyware issue came from two sources:

1. From the survey that many thousands of you answered several months ago about what you want us to cover in Internet ScamBusters. (We are slowly making it through the answers — but it will take months to read them all!)

One thing is very clear: there is an enormous amount of interest in learning more about spyware, adware, viruses, worms and trojans.

2. A couple of issues ago we told you about a new study by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance that found that most PC users think their computers are safe, and are not aware of all the spyware, viruses, trojans, and other ‘malware’ infecting their PCs.

We were especially concerned that 80% had spyware or adware on their systems, with most not even knowing the software had been installed!

So, we’ve decided to create an Internet ScamBusters Anti-Spyware Resource Center. This article is the first in a series we’ll cover in the newsletter and on the website about spyware.

So, you can expect to see periodic articles about spyware and viruses from us. In fact, next week’s issue will be on one of the most popular spyware removal software programs, along with some updates on other scams.

OK. Let’s get going…

What You Need to Know About Spyware

Spyware is a mean villain. Many of us recognize spyware by the name adware, which is a hotly debated topic in the world of cyber security.

But spyware has more than just one face. In fact, adware is one of spyware’s least dangerous mutations.

What — exactly — is spyware?

Spyware, which is actually ‘computer monitoring software,’ can take many forms.

Basically, spyware is software that tracks your actions and/or your Internet use. It can capture what you type on your keyboard, including passwords, and send it to the spyware creator.

Its most popular mutation is adware, which is advertisement related monitoring and marketing software. Adware is “a form of spyware that collects information about the user in order to display advertisements in the Web browser based on the information it collects from the user’s browsing patterns.”

Adware can be found all over the Web. In fact, many ‘free’ programs are infested with it. It usually comes bundled within a free program such as KaZaa, Grokster, Comet Cursor, HotBar, InternetOptimizer, Gator, Money Tree, etc. etc. etc. The list can be endless.

How can ad related spyware (adware) infect a computer?

If you’ve ever downloaded a free game, accounting software, cool Web utilities, media players, etc. — any program offered as free on the Internet — you’re likely infected with a marketing type of spyware (adware).

What does ad-related spyware do?

There are different types of adware programs, but most of them are programmed to record all of your online activities and/or browsing habits. They closely track every single page you visit in order to determine what your interests are. They keep a log of what you do online, and every so often, transmit that data to a remote site, which processes this spyware generated information.

This may or may not sound that harmful to you. However, you haven’t even heard the rest.

How can ad-related spyware harm you?

This perhaps seemingly harmless form of spyware has several downfalls. First of all, it generates huge amounts of spam, pop-up ads and advertisement related content.

If the adware determines you visit runner sites, you will be bombarded with ads offering you hot new sneakers, heartbeat monitors, sore muscle remedies, etc. (any commercial item related to running).

Does this mean you only get ads about products you’re interested in? In part yes, but the sheer number of ads generated by the spyware can become so bothersome that you can get to the point of not wanting to be online or opening up your email!

And adware causes even greater problems.

Advertising-related spyware can greatly reduce your Internet speed and can cause your CPU usage to artificially go up. Adware can also rob you of great amounts of hard disk storage space.

The amount of online, as well as offline, activity going on in the background — sending information back and forth to remote sites, feeding you ads, storing ads on your hard drive to ensure you see them online as well as offline, etc. — can severely interrupt the correct functioning of your computer.

‘Browser hijacking’ is another characteristic of some truly invasive adware programs. The spyware might change your home page, your default search engine might turn out to be some strange Russian site, weird links might be added to your list of Favorites, new buttons might appear on your toolbar, etc.

Advertising related spyware has also been known to cause many system crashes.

Now the amount of damage you suffer depends on the individual type of spyware installed on your computer.

Many people get so frustrated with the spyware on their computer that they just buy a new computer!

Unfortunately, if they do the same things regarding free software, etc., they’ll wind up with the same spyware programs and problems with their new computer.

You can read more about adware in this new article we’ve written. It’s called: The Truth About Adware: Learn How Advertisers Use Adware To Secretly Invade Your Privacy. Visit now.

We’ll talk about the most popular spyware removal programs next week.

Wishing you a wonderful, safe week.