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.
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.
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.
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.
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.