If you’re not running an anti-spyware program then your computer and your personal information could be left wide open for hackers to get their hands on…
Unfortunately, most computers have spyware on them or at least they’ve had it in the past. Your computer is most vulnerable if you frequently download free programs such as games, screen savers, free software applications or other tools.
However, even if you don’t download this type of software, you could still unintentionally install spyware. Most of the time, spyware is installed along with another application so you might not even be aware you’re agreeing to have this extra spyware software installed.
The damage spyware can do can range from annoyance to downright criminal. Often times, spyware will rear it’s ugly head in the form of popups or other types of advertisements. These are annoying and can force you to see how fast you can close the windows before the new one pops open, but in general they aren’t particularly harmful.
On the other hand, some spyware can take up nearly all of your system resources as it “does its thing”, causing your computer to start to run slowly. Again, this is more annoying than harmful, at least on its surface. But eventually, this type of behavior can cause your system to operate unreliably, cause programs to freeze up or the computer to crash or restart. This can be particularly problematic if you use your computer for business, but even the casual computer user can end up with lost data, corrupted files or a computer that just doesn’t work like it should.
On the far end of the spectrum, you have the type of spyware that can lead to criminal activity such as identity theft and fraud. Some spyware programs use techniques such as key logging to steal your password and other personal information. This can potentially expose you to more risks such as identity theft. Computer fraud is another potential threat as spyware programs can use your computer to launch attacks on other computers.
Running anti-spyware software has become a widely recognized element of computer security standard. But even for those who have anti-virus software on their systems, it is recommended that a few spyware definitions be added to the collection for greater protection.
A few well-known types of spyware include:
– Browser hijackers/sters: These are mostly browser-based spyware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet and then installed on your computer. They usually monitor your browsing activity and then send pop-up ads, cookies or other junk to your screen.
– Keyloggers: This type of spyware gets a hold of your computer keystrokes and then sends them off to another computer. They keyloggers can store everything you type, including credit card numbers and passwords, in addition to other private information such as bank account and routing numbers.
– Browser hijackers/sters are also one of the most common methods used by hackers to gain control of your computer.
– Scumware: Scumware is a program that tries to redirect you to other sites through your Internet browser. It does this usually by changing your homepage and installation location; making it harder to navigate to your destination.
– Trojan horse programs: These are programs that pretend to be harmless programs, but actually do something sinister, like steal information from your computer or host a scam on the web.
– Worms: These are programs that replicate themselves and use network connections to send spare parts to other systems.
– Viruses: These are programs that induce user action, either by altering the Windows registry or hard-drives, as well as sometimes installing themselves directly onto victimized systems. Usually, once a virus has infected a computer, it rewards the creator by releasing new viruses or trojans.
Once you understand the threats, you can decide what to do about staying safe on the Internet. If you don’t have anti-virus software, you should get one today. If you have anti-virus software, you should update it or run an update regularly.
Here are some steps to follow to help you stay safe on the Internet:
– Tune your anti-virus software to automatically scan files as they are downloaded online. Then, run the application and check for it on your list of culprits. When you find some, you’ll know that the program is on his list of guilty sites.
– Configure your anti-virus software to automatically boot when you start you computer. This way, you won’t have to remember to turn on the anti-virus software each time you start your computer.
– Remember to run the anti-virus software each time you download a file to your computer.
– Beware of hoaxes. Hoaxes spread quickly in the virtual world.