Spyware & Malware

Downloading something cool? Are you sure it’s not Spyware?

What is Spyware?

The term spyware covers a wide range of situations from the benign (browser cookies) to the malicious – applications which are indistinguishable from viruses. In fact the worst spyware applications are like viruses designed to make money, which means the people responsible for the spyware are highly motivated. The authors are not 18 year old hackers looking to have fun, they are professionals hoping to steal passwords, account numbers, credit card information and personal data or to sell you something. Infecting a computer with spyware has become a business model.

Spyware is often bundled as a hidden component in freeware or shareware applications downloaded from the Internet. You may think you are getting something useful. At first glance Weatherbug and Bonzi Buddy seem like things that are useful, but there are dangerous strings attached. Spyware applications can monitor keystrokes to record credit card numbers, scan files on the hard drive, open up backdoors so your computer can be remotely controlled or simply monitor your web browsing. Spyware can also be downloaded by Internet Explorer without your knowledge as you browse untrustworthy sites. Some spyware modules include auto-update functions that can download and install more spyware. This is one reason spyware tends to snowball quickly on an infected computer.

The worst form of Spyware are the fake anti-spyware applications. If you get a pop-up window while browsing the web that states you are infected and must download an anti-spyware application to remove traces of it – DON’T !!! The pop-up is really spyware.

Anti-Spyware Applications

Fortunately many really good anti-spyware applications exist (Mac users do not need to worry about spyware – yet – but that could change). The Office for Information Technology recommends Windows Defender for XP (which is installed on Faculty and Staff computers after 2006 and built in to Vista and Windows 7) and MalWareBytes (the name is goofy but the product is solid). Simply go to www.download.com and look for malwarebytes. Windows Defender can be downloaded from http://www.microsoft.com – it is not necessary to run more than one anti-spyware program unless your computer is already highly infected in which case it can require scans from several to get clean.

Spyware Symptoms

  1. I see pop-up adds all the time
  2. My web settings have changed and I can’t change them back
  3. My browser has components and toolbars that I don’t remember installing
  4. My computer seems sluggish
  5. I’m getting notifications that my computer is infected from a program I don’t recognized (meaning, not Sophos or whatever AV program you use at home)

Programs Known to Have Spyware – Avoid!

  • Weatherbug
  • Web Shots
  • Comet Cursor
  • Bonzi Buddy
  • Cool Web Search
  • Bargain Buddy
  • HotBar
  • Gator
  • XoloX
  • Precision Time

Most Filesharing Programs Have Spyware

  • Kazaa and Kazaa Lite
  • Limewire
  • Grokster
  • Bearshare