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Spyware or Virus ?

This entry is transported from my old site into here, due to its sheer magnitude of understanding among my readers…

In view of the ongoing viruses and spywares lurking on the Internet, let me take this opportunity to do a mini thesis about this whole issue. For those that are oblivious to all these technical information, treat this as another information needed to be understand in this information superhighway era. Otherwise, you may wish to stop reading this entry and venture off to somewhere else. First stop, let’s take a look at a definition of an Internet virus.

Virus: It’s a program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes and will quickly use all available memory and bring the system to a halt. It is important to note that a virus cannot be spread without a human action, (such as running an infected program) to keep it going. People continue the spread of a computer virus, mostly unknowingly, by sharing infecting files or sending e-mails with viruses as attachments in the e-mail.

Many people make a common blunder when they refer an Internet worm or Trojan Horse as also a virus. An Internet worm is similar to a virus in its design but unlike a virus, a worm has the ability to travel without any help from a person. A worm takes advantage of file or information transport features on your system, which allows it to travel independently. The biggest threat with a worm is its ability to reproduce itself on your system, so rather than your computer sending out a single worm, it could send out hundreds or thousands of copies of itself, creating a huge devastating effect to your recipients in your personal address book.

A Trojan Horse, at first glance will appear to be useful software but will actually do damage once installed or run on your computer. Those on the receiving end of a Trojan Horse are usually tricked into opening them because they appear to be receiving legitimate software or files from a legitimate source. Some Trojans are designed to be more annoying than malicious (like changing your desktop, adding silly active desktop icons) or they can cause serious damage by deleting files and destroying information on your system. Trojans are also known to create a backdoor on your computer that gives malicious users access to your system, possibly allowing confidential or personal information to be compromised. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojans do not reproduce by infecting other files nor do they self-replicate.

Now that we have get a small understanding on what is a virus and its variants, let us take a look on what is a spyware. Most websurfers are also uninformed about this and assume that its similar to virus. Let me emphasise this: Spywares are DIFFERENT from Viruses. Updating your anti-virus programs does not RESOLVE the spywares that are lurking in your PC. Now that I’ve got that clear, let me explain what is a spyware and its impact on you.

A spyware is define as any software that covertly gathers user information through the user’s Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet.

Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers. Spyware is similar to a Trojan horse in that users unwittingly install the product when they install something else. A common way to become a victim of spyware is to download certain peer-to-peer file swapping products that are available today.

The most critical factor that made a spyware useful to their makers is the fact that it steals from the user by using the computer’s memory resources and also by eating bandwidth as it sends information back to the spyware’s home base via the user’s Internet connection. That is the reason some users complaint that their Internet connection speed is slow whereas in fact, their PCs are probably manifested by these software. Because spyware is using memory and system resources, the applications running in the background can lead to system crashes or general system instability.

As spyware exists as independent executable programs, they have the ability to monitor keystrokes, scan files on the hard drive, snoop other applications, such as chat programs or word processors, install other spyware programs, read cookies, change the default home page on the Web browser, consistently relaying this information back to the spyware author who will either use it for advertising/marketing purposes or sell the information to another party.

Here are some symptoms to detect if a spyware is present on your PC. If you notice any changes to your Web browser that you did not make such as extra toolbars or different homepage settings, as well as changes to your security settings and favorites list, you could have spyware running on your system. Other signs of a spyware infection include pop-up ads which aren’t related to a Web site you’re viewing; usually spyware advertisements are adult content in nature and are not displayed in the same fashion as legitimate ads you would normally see on your favorite Web sites.

You may also see advertisements when you’re not browsing the Web. Clicking hyperlinks which do not work (or take you somewhere you didn’t expect), a sluggish system, or your system taking longer to load the Windows desktop are all signs that your computer may be infected with spyware.

My Recommended solutions to ward off any viruses and spywares in your PC:
1. You will need to have an anti-virus program (that is not expired yet!!) such as Norton Anti-Virus or Norton Internet Security in your PC. Trend Micro’s product came a close second during my testing though it falls short when it comes to blocking of spamming attacks. Spamming will be discuss in my next entry.

2. Having an anti-virus program is one thing. Updating the product is another. There is no point in having the program without updating its virus definition files to keep the program updated with the most recent information.

3. If you are using broadband or cable modem connection, get either a hardware firewall or software firewall. Again, most people assume that this is unimportant until they realise that their PC are getting slower than expected only to realise that a hacker manage to penetrate their home PC and ‘share’ their Internet connection, together with the user. Also, Singnet® and Pacific Internet® are using broadband and Starhub Maxonline® are using cable modem connections. I’m writing it down here also because there are still some out there who are confuse between broadband and cable modem.

4. You need to install an anti-spyware program to combat any spywares that are in your PC or during your stay in the Internet. If you are using a genuine Windows™ Operating System (OS), Microsoft® have a good anti-spyware program to fight the spywares. The product is called, Microsoft Anti-Spyware™, and its readily available to download from Microsoft own website. If you are not using a genuine Windows OS, you will need to source out some anti-spyware products on the net, particular from Download.com®. Second best product for this will be Webroot® Spysweeper™ and its companion, Windows Washer™ although, this is only a trial version for 14 days, after which, the program will expire.

5. If all else fail, you may need to consult your local PC repairman for further information. I have been doing such service repairs for home visits fyi.

Bear in mind that to run these two programs (anti-virus and anti-spyware) in your PC, you will need to have a considerable amount of memory (RAM) in your PC, minimum 256 Mb but recommended 512 MB as it will generally slows down your memory’s CPU power if you do not have a high-end memory.

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