One day, you suddenly realize that your computer started to work
noticeably slower than it used to. You decide to run
de-fragmentation of your hard drive and add more virtual memory
to the system. No luck! May be, it's probably some viruses, you
reckon turning on your virus scanning software. Even after
running the anti-virus program you notice that the problem will not
resolve. Not understanding what's happening frustrated you pick
up the phone. It's time to call your tech-support. Sounds
familiar? You are not alone! Each day, thousands of users are
facing similar problems caused by malicious software called
Spyware. According to Dell technical support, nowdays 12
percent of their support calls involve problems related to some
kinds of Spyware. Microsoft reports that fifty percent of all
computer crashes are caused by Spyware, viruses and Trojans.
What is a Spyware?
Spyware – also named Malware or Adware – are malicious software
programs, which most of the time get installed on your computer
without your knowledge. These programs are capable of doing many
outrageous, sinister things to your computer such as changing
computer settings, tracking your online behavior, monitoring and
controlling your computer, recording your keystrokes, displaying
unwanted advertisement and reporting needed information back to
the person behind it.
The main types of Spyware are:
Key loggers: This type of Spyware copies everything you type to
a file and send it to the hacker. The more sophisticated type,
which is used for identity theft, copies the information you
provide when you are connected to a secure website.
Browser hijacker: It modifies browser settings without your
permission. This Spyware is capable of changing your start page,
search page, search tool bar and redirect your url to specific
Email redirector: Surreptitiously copies all your incoming and
outgoing emails and sends to the hacker.
Dialers: This spyware install themselves to your dial-up settings
and dials numbers without your knowledge, often to out of country
Collectware: The purpose of this Spyware is to track your surfing
habit and transmitting the statistical data to the hacker. This
information later gets sold to advertisement companies.
Adware: This Spyware downloads all sorts of banner advertisements
every time you take some action such as typing a word on your
Why my antivirus program does not block a Spyware?
Although, Spyware uses same tactics like "Trojan" virus,
technically it is not a virus. A virus is a program written to
create trouble or possibly harm your computer system. Viruses are
capable of replicate, evolve and cause severe damages to your
computer files, registry or even hardware. Spyware, on the other
hand, does not harm your computer intentionally. Any nuisance
like system slow down is the collateral damage, which occurs
while the Spyware serves its mission of monitoring your
activities and making unwanted changes to your user experience.
People rarely read the fine prints of the user agreements while
downloading a file, a program, a game or other free stuffs from
the Internet. Unethical sites use this to their advantage and
add tiny Spyware with the file you are downloading.
The anti-virus programs can not be sure, whether this program is
installed by you or it's a malicious Spyware. This
makes identifying and blocking a Spyware difficult for an
Anti-virus program. However, things are started to change! Major
anti-virus companies are planning to integrate anti-spyware
programs to their existing products very soon.
How did I get infected with a Spyware?
There are numerous ways how you might end up with having a
Spyware on your system.
– When you download and install programs, games, smilies, pictures, screensavers from dubious sites, there is a big chance that you might install a sneaky Spyware along the way.
– Some websites and pop-up windows try to download and install Spyware while you are there. According to a recent analysis of sex-based websites, up to 80 percent of these sites are now being used to upload Spyware, worms and Trojans to unsuspecting visitors.
– Some add-ons to you browser that is supposedly to enhance your browser experience may secretly install Spyware.
– The most cynical method of infecting you with Spyware is when you receive a sudden pop-up ad, which claims that your computer is contaminated and you have to run certain program to cure your system. If you are credulous enough to run this program, it just installs a Spyware instead of eliminating any.
How to fight back?
If you carefully follow the instructions outlined below, your chances
of getting infected with Spyware are pretty slim.
Update your Windows
Allow your version of Windows to update it automatically. Ensure that
you have all the latest security patches installed.
Use Firefox as your default browser
Since Internet Explorer is the main target for many Spyware, you will
be better of with Mozilla Firefox. Moreover, it is a better browser
than IE in many aspects.
Be extremely careful with your downloads
Try not to download anything from a unknown site. If you still feel
like getting a shareware or freeware program check it out on one of
these online Spyware database. Spychecker ( http://www.spychecker.com/ )
is one such service, and Camtech 2000's Spy Chaser
( http://camtech2000.net/Pages/SpyChaser.html )
is a nifty downloadable database of near
1000 spyware-infected programs.
Use an Anti-Spyware application
Download and install one of the following anti-spyware programs:
Ad-aware ( http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/ ),
Spybot ( http://www.safer-networking.org/en/spybotsd/index.html )
and Microsoft AntiSpyware. Although, Microsoft's Anti-Spyware
( http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx )
is still at beta stage, I am using it and very happy
with its performance.
Get a Firewall
If you are using Windows XP with Service Pack 2, you are probably
fine! In other cases, if your computer is connected to the Internet
directly you should get a firewall and install it. Zone alarm
( http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp ) is a
great firewall you can download for free.
A recently conducted survey of the Top Network Security threats in
2005 reveals that two-thirds of IT managers and administrators
believe that Spyware will be the number one threat to network
security. So do not take any chance! Make sure that you are protected!