The Computer Buzz
||August 14th, 2008|
Nome and Paul Van Middlesworth - owners - The Computer Factory
(spy ware/ad ware & viruses) Part 1 of 2
Spy-ware/ad-ware and a resurgence of Internet based viruses are the #1 headache for PC users today. The effect of this "malware" epidemic runs the gamut from sluggish performance and annoying pop-ups to fraud and identity theft and ultimately to the corruption of the operating system itself.
What is "malware" and how does it work? Who does it? Why do they do it? How can we protect ourselves from it?
Spy-ware/ad-ware and viruses are similar in structure. All are programs designed to enter your computer clandestinely and use your computer's own resources to accomplish some intended purpose. The purpose of a virus is to disrupt your PCs operation, replicate itself, spread itself to other users on your network or E-mail list and announce itself to the world. The payoff for the virus program writer is the infamy and pleasure derived from screwing things up for everyone.
Spy-ware/ad-ware program writers put their genius to more practical use. Their payoff is money. They don't want to interfere with the operation of your PC and they don't even want you to know they're present. They know you will take defensive measures if you know they are in your PC so they maintain a low profile.
For simplicity, we treat spy-ware and ad-ware as a single entity. There are subtle differences.
Spy-ware uses your computer to gather information about you and your Internet browsing. The creator then uses or sells this information. In its mildest form spy-ware compiles data on your Internet surfing patterns and sells that data to companies who then market their products to you through pop-up ads and other forms of solicitation. At its worst spy-ware may attempt to decode your passwords and bank or credit card information for the purpose of fraud or identity theft.
Ad-ware seeks to interest you in purchasing products or visiting the web sites of its clients by exposing you to their ads or by "hijacking" your home page. Ad-ware's mildest form is the pop-up, at its worst it can direct your PC to "pay for view" sites without your knowledge and surprise you with a staggering month end invoice.
While it is not the intent of ad-ware/spy-ware to interfere with the function or performance of your computer, each of these programs consume some amount of your PCs resources. While the effect of any single spy-ware/ad-ware program on the performance of your PC may be negligible, when a few hundred or thousand (not at all uncommon) of these programs invade your PC, the effect can be profound. These programs may conflict with one another or with your own programs and device drivers causing freeze-up or blue-screens. At a minimum they will rob your PC of resources causing it to slow down.
Next week we discuss the latest "malware" threats, how to protect your PC from infection and what to do when you get "hit."