Beware of Spyware – Steps to Protect Your Computer
Spyware refers to malicious software that takes partial control over computer operations through unauthorized access without the knowledge or consent of the computer owner, and has become one of the biggest security threats for computer users today.
Spyware exploits infected computers for commercial gain, usually by including unsolicited pop-up advertisements; by monitoring users’ online activities; by routing http requests to ad sites; or by stealing personal information such as financial information. In fact, it is estimated that identity thieves have stolen more than US $ 24 billion of account information in the United States alone.
Spyware infects computers most often by piggybacking on the desired software and users unknowingly download and install it. Spyware also often works in rogue anti-spyware programs that pretend to be security software. Spyware is also bundled with other downloadable software and music CDs.
Yet another method for distributing spyware involves deceiving computer users by manipulating security features designed to prevent unwanted installations. For example, surfers who use the Internet Explorer web browser may unknowingly click a command prompt that appears to be a Windows dialog box, when in fact it starts downloading spyware.
As spyware threats worsen, several anti-spyware programs have emerged designed to counteract or remove spyware. Programs such as Ad-Aware SE and Spybot – Search & Destroy are some of the more popular and effective tools for removing and intercepting spyware programs. Microsoft has also released Windows AntiSpyware to combat spyware problems. Other popular anti-spyware programs include Spy Sweeper, Spyware Doctor, XoftSpy, and CounterSpy.
Anti-virus companies Symantec, McAfee and Sophos, who were initially reluctant to add anti-spyware features to their anti-virus products, eventually added anti-spyware features to the latest versions of their anti-virus products.
Computer users also become smart at detecting spyware. Many users now install web browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), such as Opera or Mozilla Firefox which are not as vulnerable as IE against spyware – although that does not mean that Opera and Firefox have not come from similar security vulnerabilities. No browser is 100% safe, because “security” all depends on the person who uses the browser.
Some internet service providers, especially colleges and universities, block spyware by using network firewalls and their web proxies to block access to Web sites that are known to install spyware.
Spyware sometimes hides in shareware programs that are offered to be downloaded, so downloading the program only from reputable sources provides protection from these sources of attack.