What type of
spyware programs could infect your computer?
Sometime confused with viruses by less informed computer users, or
disregarded as a nuissance by others, spyware programs can often wreack a havoc on your computer, if you happen to
pick them somwhere along the way. Below are short descriptions on some of the more known spyware programs and what
they do, including Wikipedia links for more information about each.
Why Do I Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me?
Spyware is one of the fastest-growing internet threats. According to the National
Cyber Security Alliance, spyware infects more than 90% of all PCs
today. These unobtrusive, malicious programs are designed to silently bypass firewalls and anti-virus software
without the user’s knowledge. Once embedded in a computer, it can wreak havoc on the system’s performance while
gathering your personal information. Fortunately, unlike viruses and worms, spyware programs do not
|Although not as dangerous as computer viruses or malware, spyware programs
can be nonethless intrusive on your privacy and activities, causing potential harm.
Where do spyware programs come from?
Typically, spyware programs can originates in these three
1. Spyware embeded into
freeware or shareware - The first and most common way is
when the user installs it. In this scenario, spyware is embedded, attached, or bundled with a freeware or shareware
program without the user’s knowledge. The user downloads the program to their computer. Once downloaded, the
spyware program goes to work collecting data for the spyware author’s personal use or to sell to a third-party.
Beware of many P2P file-sharing programs. They are notorious for downloads that posses spyware programs.
The user of a downloadable program should pay extra attention to the accompanying
licensing agreement. Often the software publisher will warn the user that a spyware program will be installed along
with the requested program. Unfortunately, we do not always take the time to read the fine print. Some agreements
may provide special "opt-out" boxes that the user can click to stop the spyware from being included in the
download. Be sure to review the document before signing off on the download.
2. Deceptive download
links - Another way that spyware can access your computer
is by tricking you into manipulating the security features designed to prevent any unwanted installations. The
Internet Explorer Web browser was designed not to allow websites to start any unwanted downloads. That is why the
user has to initiate a download by clicking on a link. These links can prove deceptive. For example, a pop-up
modeled after a standard Windows dialog box, may appear on your screen. The message may ask you if you would like
to optimize your internet access. It provides yes or no answer buttons, but, no matter which button you push, a
download containing the spyware program will commence. Newer versions of Internet Explorer are now making this
spyware pathway a little more difficult.
3. Security hole
attacks - Finally, some spyware applications infect a
system by attacking security holes in the Web browser or other software. When the user navigates a webpage
controlled by a spyware author, the page contains code designed to attack the browser, and force the installation
of the spyware program.
What can spyware programs do?
Spyware programs can accomplish a multitude of malicious tasks. Some of their
deeds are simply annoying for the user; others can become downright aggressive in nature.
- Monitor your keystrokes for reporting purposes.
- Scan files located on your hard drive.
- Snoop through applications on our desktop.
- Install other spyware programs into your computer.
- Read your cookies.
- Steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal
- Change the default settings on your home page web
- Mutate into a second generation of spyware thus making it more difficult to
- Cause your computer to run slower.
- Deliver annoying pop up advertisements.
- Add advertising links to web pages for which the author does not get paid.
Instead, payment is directed to the spyware programmer that changed the original affiliate’s
- Provide the user with no uninstall option and places itself in unexpected or
hidden places within your computer making it difficult to remove.
Spyware Programs Examples
Here are a few examples of commonly seen spyware programs. Please note that while
researchers will often give names to spyware programs, they may not match the names the spyware-writers
CoolWebSearch, a group of
programs, that install through "holes" found in Internet Explorer. These programs direct traffic to advertisements
on Web sites including coolwebsearch.com. This spyware nuisance displays pop-up ads, rewrites search engine results, and alters the computer host
file to direct the Domain Name System (DNS) to lookup preselected sites.
Internet Optimizer (a/k/a DyFuCa), likes to redirect Internet Explorer error pages to
advertisements. When the user follows the broken link or enters an erroneous URL, a page of advertisements pop
180 Solutions reports
extensive information to advertisers about the Web sites which you visit. It also alters HTTP requests
for affiliate advertisements
linked from a Web site. Therefore the 180 Solutions Company makes an unearned profit off of the click through
advertisements they’ve altered.
HuntBar (a/k/a WinTools)
is distributed by Traffic Syndicate and is installed by ActiveX drive-by downloading at affiliate websites or by advertisements
displayed by other spyware programs. It’s a prime example of how spyware can install more spyware. These programs
will add toolbars to Internet Explorer, track Web browsing behavior, and display advertisements.
How can I prevent
There are a couple things you can do to prevent spyware from infecting your
computer system. First, invest in a reliable commercial anti-spyware program. There are several currently on the
market including stand alone software packages such as Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware or Windows Antispyware. Other options
provide the anti-spyware software as part of an anti-virus package. This type of option is offered by companies
such as Sophos, Symantec, and McAfee. Anti-spyware programs can combat spyware by providing real-time protection,
scanning, and removal of any found spyware software. As with most programs, update your anti virus software
As discussed, the Internet Explorer (IE) is often a contributor to the spyware
problem because spyware programs like to attach themselves to its functionality. Spyware enjoys penetrating the
IE’s weaknesses. Because of this, many users have switched to non-IE browsers. However, if you prefer to stick with
Internet Explorer, be sure to update the security patches regularly, and only download programs from reputable
sources. This will help reduce your chances of a spyware infiltration.
And, when all else
Finally, if your computer has been infected with a large number of spyware
programs, the only solution you may have is backing up your data, and performing a complete reinstall of the
operating system. So, be prepared - always have your important data backed up, just in case.