There is a lot of negative “ware” out there. Things like spyware, malware, adware, scareware, various viruses, and ransomware. It is important to know the differences, what they do, and how they effect you and your computer. Today we are going to be getting some information on

Spy·ware
ˈspīwer/
noun
  1. software that enables a user to obtain covert information about another’s computer activities by transmitting data covertly from their hard drive.
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Have you ever searched for something using Google or gone shopping on amazon, only to realize a little bit later that while you are on facebook there are lots of suggested posts and advertisements for things similar to your search query or shopping list? We all know that our information is important to us but how come large companies have all of this information about us and our preferences? When we use a search engine like Google, they are taking data points about us, and if we use any of their services, we give them permission to do so in the End User License Agreement that we usually sign off on with out reading. These data points on our likes, dislikes, and our search history provide assistance to marketers and  businesses to shape their services to our needs and better understand various demographics.

 

Spyware is similar to that, except that it does so with out your consent. Spyware typically makes adjustments to your computer’s configuration, collects personal information, and can result in a variety of advertisements. It then periodically transmits that information to the “owner”. Spyware can make it difficult to change your computer settings, frequently changes your web browser settings, or even add browsing components that you don’t need or desire. It can cause your computer to slow down and even crash.

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Am I Infected?

As technology changes and as programmers improve, it can become more and more difficult to tell if you have spyware on your computer. However, there are some symptoms that suggest that spyware has been installed on your computer.

Things like:

  • Your browser’s home page suddenly being changed
  • You are redirected to websites other than the one you actually typed into your browser
  • New and unexpected toolbars appear in your browser
  • New and unexpected icons and tools show up in your start bar or on your dock
  • You are frequently bombarded with endless popup windows while surfing your normal websites
  • Random Windows or MacOS error messages begin to appear

Slowness when opening applications or doing processing tasks such as saving files or opening recent files, could be a sign of a malware infection. However there are a lot of things that can contribute to a computer feeling sluggish. If computer slowness occurs along side of one or more of these other symptoms, you should run antivirus or have someone come to look into your computer.

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Prevention

The first step you can take to prevent spyware is understand two things.

  1. That you understand what the application will do and  where the application is from. If you are installing a music playing application, it probably does more than just play your music files. For example, it may have an internet radio option, or an option to download album art work, or to share playlists with other people. Those are the kinds of things that we don’t think about because it is our music player. However, it will be sending and receiving information via the internet that someone could be tracking.
  2. That you understand what you are agreeing to when you install the application. For most applications, prior to installing, there will be a few disclosures including a privacy statement and a license agreement shown to you. Be sure to read these carefully to understand what you are really agreeing to. Sometimes the spyware is documented in the disclosures and you can disagree before it is too late.

Unfortunately it is not always documented. You can be tricked into installing spyware during the installation of an application you actually do want such as a file sharing program, or video downloading software. Often they are bundled in with applications that are in a moral gray area.

While surfing on the internet, you can unintentionally install spyware by clicking on various links and pop ups, so here are four things you can do to stay on your guard and prevent spyware!

  1. Be on your guard when using free software. We hinted at this earlier. There are a lot of really great free applications and utilities out there! If you do not trust the website, you should probably try and find the application somewhere else. Preferably in an official app store like Apple App Store or the GooglePlay store, or even directly from the developer! Be wary of pirated and hacked software from torrent websites or file sharing software. The price of free always has a cost.
  2. If you are asked an unexpected question while surfing the web ALWAYS say NO (or click out and close the window). While surfing the internet you may get a pop up window that asks if you would like to run a particular piece of software to run a certain task. You may have never heard of the application that has popped up in front of you, or it may be dressed up like an application that is already on your computer. If it is unexpected, the answer should always be no!
  3. Do NOT click on links inside pop-up windows. Pop-ups are usually advertisements and can install spyware onto your computer. Click the X in the top of the ad to close it. Sometimes they are really small, so be careful when closing the advertisement. If you happen to click on the add, make sure to check your downloads folder in both your browser and your computer user folder to make sure nothing was downloaded on accident.
  4. If you receive an e-mail that offers anti-spyware software  do NOT follow the link. In our last post we talked about making sure that your emails that you receive are actually from who they say they are from. Always check! You may receive regular e-mails from Norton anti-virus or some other name brand company if you already use their services. If you get an e-mail out of the blue from a different company, or some new technology, check to see if it is legitimate before clicking anything in the e-mail. Your due diligence will take you a very long way!

Not everyone on the internet is out to hurt you. But there are enough people who want information about you, to cast a very wide net. If you would like training on how to prevent spyware, or need assistance finding the right kind of anti-virus and anti-spyware software, we are always here to help!