Internet Survival Skills 102 - Spyware

Spyware is software that gathers your personal information, often without your knowledge.  This information can be used for advertising purposes by monitoring your activity and transmitting that information to a third party.  The most malicious spyware can gather e-mail addresses, bank accounts, passwords, and credit card numbers.

Spyware can cause your computer to slow down or encounter errors.  Spyware has also been known to cause unwanted pop-up advertisements, an inability to connect to the Internet, and problems printing.

Spyware can be bundled with freeware or shareware that you download from the Internet.  File-sharing programs, media players, search tools and even programs that claim to remove spyware can contain hidden applications that can affect your computerís performance and leak information without out knowledge. According to a study done by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance in October of last year, over 80% of home computers were found to contain spyware.

McAfee identified the top 10 threats in 2004 as falling into one of the following key areas: spyware/adware, email-borne viruses, and malware delivered by spam. The top threats for 2004 in alphabetical order are:

                     Adware-180

                     Adware-Gator

                     Exploit-ByteVerify

                     Exploit-MhtRedir

                     JS/Noclose

                     W32/Bagle

                     W32/Mydoom

                     W32/Netsky

                     W32/Sasser

                     W32/Sdbot (family including Sdbot, Gaobot, Polybot, Spybot)

Avert went on to report that threats using vulnerable systems in 2004 totalled more than 380, exceeding 2003 totals by approximately 50 per cent. The group believes that this number will grow due to hackers' continuing interest in exploiting unpatched home systems.

As you can see, traditional anti-virus software alone does not protect you; these applications technically are not viruses. Often the user willingly installs the application to gain access to a web site without realizing the consequences. Newer versions of anti-virus tools are being bundled with spyware tools and are often available as an upgrade. Stand-alone tools are also available from commercial and shareware sources.

Microsoft is now offering anti-spyware program downloads for Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Serverô 2003 users. This application is fairly new and there have been reports of false positives, but as it is based on a fairly well regarded commercial tool which Microsoft recently acquired, it looks like a good bet. This service is free for now and is offering daily updates.

 

Frank Boffey, CISSP

RE FormsNet, LLC