The Different Types of Spyware

Virus in program code

There are many different classifications of malware and indeed spyware could be sub-categorized on many different levels. This section of the site is going to look at the most common and most dangerous types.

Adware

The most common type of spyware. These are small programs which sit on your computer waiting for you to go online. Once the adware detects that you’re connected to the Internet it starts sending you popup, popover and pop-under ads for anything from airline tickets to porn site membership.

Not only that but information on your viewing habits is tracked and stored. This data is then sold on to marketing companies who will send you more junk email and popup ads than you ever thought possible.

Browser Hijacker

These are just plain annoying. These install themselves on your computer and change your default homepage and search engine to something else. Every time you start your web browser it will bring you to a page filled with ads, porn or other unwanted material. This interrupts your web browsing and is intensely annoying.

Most browser hijackers are also data miners. A data mining program reports your web browsing habits to a central database. This information is then sold on to marketing companies.

Keyboard Logger

These programs are designed for one thing – theft. When you log in to your online banking these can record your PIN number. When you check your private email account these programs can record your password. Anything you type online or offline can be stored or transmitted without your knowledge or permission.

Keyboard loggers are one of the most damaging pieces of spyware because of the potential financial dangers. There is also a huge risk of identity theft. I know of one case where a 10 year old boy used a keyboard logger to steal his fathers credit card and banking information.

Modem Hijacker

Potentially the most costly spyware. Modem hijackers are also referred to as dialers. Dialers normally install themselves to your computer via a virus infection or from warez, mp3 or adult websites.

A dialer is a small piece of software that will dial long distance, premium rate phone numbers when you’re not at your PC. These phone numbers are normally for adult chat line services located in Russia, China, South America and the Phillipines. I have personally seen unlucky victims receive $2,000 telephone bills for one month of telephone calls.

The most worrying aspect of spyware is not knowing whether or not your computer is infested with it. Computer users need to be pro-active in this regard. Scan your PC with a high quality spyware removal program *at least* once per month.

Just one final note. There is one piece of harmless spyware – the Alexa toolbar. Any internet marketer reading this will be familiar with it. Spyware removal progams will classify the Alexa toolbar as spyware but it’s safe.

As a last note, remember that when you use public WiFi, your information is not secure and it’s easy for hackers to steal.  So never submit personal information when using public WiFi (passwords, credit card information, bank logins, etc.).  And even when using a secured network, make sure that the website you’re sending personal info through is utilizing an SSL certificate.

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Removing Spyware From Your Computer

spyware title on a computer screen

Before we talk about removing spyware from your PC it’s important to also discuss how to prevent spyware, adware and other malware from getting onto your PC in the first place.

Commonsense and basic computer and web browser maintenance are the keys. If you’re not in the habit of keeping your computer clean and tidy then now is as good a time to start as any.

Over time computers become cluttered with junk files, temporary graphics files and eventually spyware. Taking care of your PC keeps it working at its optimum speed and also allows you to spot problems like spyware far earlier.

So how do you spyware, adware and malware getting on your PC in the first place?

1. Do not click on links offering free movies, competitions, prize draws, free software or anything that looks suspicious. There is no such thing as a free lunch – especially where the Internet is concerned.

2. Install firewall software. This is absolutely critical for DSL and Cable users but dialup users should also ensure they’re using a good firewall package.

All computers connected to the Internet today should have firewall software installed – regardless of your connection speed.

3. Make sure your antivirus software is updated. Between 500 and 1,000 new viruses appear each month so even if you’re just a little bit behind in your updates you’re at risk. Good antivirus software can prevent, find and delete the most harmful types of spyware and other harmful files.

4. Visually check out your system. Don’t just rely on software to do the job for you.

First thing you need to check is the msconfig utility.  Note to Windows 2000 users: You’ll need to download msconfig separately as it wasn’t supplied with that version of Windows. Only Bill knows.

Press CTRL, ALT and Delete on your keyboard. This will bring up either your Windows task manager or the Close programs window.

Windows 95, 98 and Millenium users. Look down through the list of applications running on your PC. If you see something that doesn’t look familiar or just doesn’t seem right then open your web browser and do a Google search for the name of the application you’ve just found. For example let’s say you found BackWebAgent. You’d open Google and type in backwebagent.exe as your search. The .exe is important to include otherwise you’ll get irrelevant search results. This is a quick and easy way to identify common pieces of spyware.

Windows 2000/XP users.

Click on the processes tab. Look through the list. If you see something that doesn’t look familiar or just doesn’t seem right then open your web browser and do a Google search for the name of the process you’ve just found. For example let’s say you found BackWebAgent. You’d open Google and type in backwebagent.exe as your search. The .exe is important to include otherwise you’ll get irrelevant search results.

You could also use WinTasks to simplify the above process. This wonderful utility makes understanding your system processes and tasks a breeze.

Spyware Removal Programs

Pest Patrol – Pest Patrol is an all-in-one spyware detection and removal program with automatic updating built in.

AdAware Plus  – For enhanced spyware removal and detection arm yourself with AdAware Plus.

Spybot  – An excellent spyware removal program.

Crap Cleaner 1.0  – Crap Cleaner is an ideal utility for clearing junk files from your PC.

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What Is Adware?

man checking email on unsecured wifi network

Most people simply refer to spyware. The reality is that there are many different types of spyware. Each type has its own set of implications and complications.

One of the most common types of spyware is Adware. They are small pieces of software which has been downloaded onto your computer via the Internet. Adware predominantly affects Microsoft Windows users. The people who design and distribute spyware tend to attack Windows only systems.

These programs stay dormant until you connect to the Internet again. Once connected you’ll be swamped with popup, popover and pop-under ads for everything from airline tickets and free Disney holidays to porn site advertisements.

Worse again is the fact that information on your web viewing habits – what sites you’ve visited, how often, what you’ve purchased online etc. This data is then sold to marketing companies (spammers) who will proceed to send you more junk email and popups than you ever thought possible.

Why is there so much spyware? Money. The people who produce adware profit directly from it’s distribution in the same way that junk emailers or spammers do. Companies are promised that their advert will appear on 25 million computer screens. They’re charged x amount of money and the ads are then displayed for them. Alternatively the adware authors themselves own a small website that sells a product or service and the adware is their method of, potentially, increasing their revenue. It’s all about the almighty dollar, euro or pound folks.

You can never be certain whether your system is infected without scanning for and then removing the infected dlls and other files. The mere act of having to scan your system for these files is an annoying but necessary part of computer life in the new Millenium.

A common misconception amongst many computer users is that simply finding and deleting the adware files on your PC will prevent it from happening again. Spyware is becoming increasingly intelligent and is quite capable of downloading fresh copies of itself back onto your PC without your knowledge.

Needless to say, whenever you send sensitive information through the Internet, it’s imperative that the site you’re using has https enabled.

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What Is Spyware?

Hooded computer hacker stealing information with laptop

Spyware is becoming the virtual plague of the new Millennium. Just as you’re barely getting to grips with fighting floods of spam, blocking viruses and fiddling with firewalls you now have a new threat – spyware.

Once upon a time the only way your computer could become infected with virues, trojans and other such bugs was to receive them via a floppy disk or infected email. Those days are gone. Spyware is lurking on the Internet just waiting for you. Some people also refer to spyware as malware or parasiteware.

Just when we’re all getting used to fighting spam, blocking viruses and tweaking our firewalls we now have to deal with a new threat – spyware. Once upon a time the only way your computer could become infected with viruses or bugs was to receive them via email or off a floppy disk. Not so anymore. Spyware is lurking online just waiting for you. In some circles you’ll also hear spyware referred to as malware or parasiteware.

Spyware are pieces of software designed to compromise your online safety, security and privacy. They’re normally downloaded onto your PC without your consent or through deceptive means. Spyware, once on your PC, can perform tasks ranging from redirecting your web browser to porno sites to logging every word you type on your keyboard. That’s right. Every single word you type in your private Instant Messages and emails can easily be recorded and transmitted to somebody else. Scary stuff!

Some spyware is just plain annoying but other types are extremely malicious. Keeping your anti-virus and firewall software up to date has never been more important. That alone it itself is not enough anymore and you’re going to need to employ the services of spyware removal software.

Spyware will get onto your PC in one of three ways:

File Sharing Applications

Programs such as Kazaa and iMesh are riddled with spyware. Installing either of these programs on a clean Windows installation (no other programs installed) will result in anywhere from 25 – 100+ pieces of spyware being installed on your computer. If you really need to use file sharing applications have a look at something like Kazaa Lite or Bearshare instead.

Warez/porn/movie/crack sites

These websites are normally loaded down with every conceivable type of spyware. The most common trick is for a message to popup saying “Download Warez Search 2000 to continue”. You click OK. Your PC is now infected with spyware, a virus or maybe even a modem hijacker. Visit these websites at your own risk.

Viruses/Trojans

The people who write viruses are now combining viruses with spyware to form hybrid software that both causes problems with your PC and steals your password and private information.

90% of viruses are received via email. If you receive an email from somebody you don’t know with files attached to it simply delete the email. If not you run the risk of serious virus infection. Note that about 300 new viruses appear each month so it’s absolutely critical to have up-to-date virus software installed on your computer.

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