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, Driver updaters and coupon printers 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.  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.

A common form of Spyware are the fake notifications claiming you are infected with a virus already. 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. See our post to remove these notifications: https://oit.williams.edu/help-guides/device-security-virus-protection/unwanted-browser-notifications/

Anti-Spyware Applications

OIT pre-installs Crowd Strike Falcon on computers issued by the college. For personal computers many good options exist. You will want research what might be best at the time you are purchasing a computer.

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 CrowdStrike, Sophos or whatever AV program you use at home)

If you experience these symptoms or believe your computer might be infected please contact OIT.