Stressfree-IT helping you to protect your PC

Spyware & Adware

What are Spyware/Adware and browser hijacks?

Although it is not quite the same, Spyware could be considered similar to viruses.

Spyware can be anything from a cookie (an automatically created text document that tracks information through a web browser), to a virus-like program that tracks activity , screen shots, passwords and the like and forwards the data on.

Generally Spyware IS actually Adware, whereby a sponsor pays to advertise by placing a banner advert within a program or popup ad for example. The program vendor or marketing company get paid each time the advertised link is followed, but often extra data is collected about your surfing habits etc and forwarded on at the same time.This type of activity is in fact not illegal (unlike viruses), but can nevertheless create problems and compromise your security.

Browser hijacks work slightly differently, and are not usually a serious security risk, they are however very annoying. A browser hijack takes the form of changing various standard Web pages used in your browser. The home page may change, the search page, the page the appears when a URL in not available etc. So where you used to see a Google home page you may suddenly see a different search engine, or something totally unrelated, and no matter how many times you change it back, still the same thing happens. Of course it would be very easy for a browser hijack to cause malicious code to be installed on an unprotected system, although, as yet, we do not see much evidence of this type of activity. Browser hijacks can be very tricky to cure on a complicated system unless you really know what you are doing.

How Do They Get In?

Viruses, hijacks, Spyware and Adware all have many different routes into a system. Email is a common one, and if you open any attachment that you are not expecting, even seemingly from a trusted source, you are asking for trouble.

Nowadays however all you have to do on a less than perfect system is simply look at a message, it may not even have an attachment or show any sign of potentially containing a virus. Similarly there are now plenty of viruses that can just connect directly over the Internet using code that exploits weaknesses in the operating system or other program’s use of the Internet Protocol (the language that computers communicate over the Internet with).

Some viruses spread easily across networks, whether wireless, wired, Bluetooth, Infra-red or whatever, and remember that when you are connected to the Internet you are in fact on one great big network. Some of these malicious things pose as being something else, a program of some kind, a patch or software update.

You are at risk from any floppy disk, CD, external hard drive, Zip disk, flash card, memory stick or other removable media, and from any users of the system. You are also at risk from browsing certain Web sites, and particularly from accepting messages displayed whilst browsing without understanding what they are actually saying.

Am I Protected?

To be protected against Viruses involves far more than just installing a piece of software, whether it is advertised as an all-in-one solution or not, and in fact there is NO SOFTWARE THAT DOES EVERYTHING you need in order to remain protected. Protection starts at the lowest level, and that is YOU.

Do you understand the do’s and don't’s? Do other users of your system understand them? Is your system fully up to date and security assessed? Is your virus protection updated regularly enough? Once a month is NOT enough. Is your virus SOFTWARE up to date, NOT the virus definition files, but the software itself? Are ALL your PC’s protected? Is your network protected from other local networks, i.e do you share sockets with other offices, or do you use wireless? Are your PC’s shielded from each other, or if one computer gets a virus does the whole system bite the dust? Is your network shielded from the Internet?

What Can I Do?

Well you can call us, or: First, educate yourself, then your users.

Next the system itself has to be fully up to date and patched with all the necessary updates release by the operating system and program vendors. Make sure that the virus software you use is actually capable of doing the job properly; anyone can write a virus guard, but it doesn't mean that it’s any good. Make sure that updates are applied to everything on a regular basis, at least once a week for virus definitions. Ensure that your network is not accessible to anybody else in the same or adjoining building. Ensure that you have suitable protection from the Internet, a firewall of the correct type and standard, and that it has been set up properly .A firewall is absolutely useless unless it is configured correctly. And finally re-asses your requirements regularly.

Spyware is any technology that aids in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. On the Internet (where it is sometimes called a spybot or tracking software), Spyware is a program that gets in to your computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties. Spyware can get into a computer as a software virus or as the result of installing new software.

Data collecting programs that are installed with the user's knowledge are not, strictly speaking, Spyware, if the user fully understands what data is being collected and with whom it is being shared. However, Spyware is often installed without the user's consent, as the result of clicking some option in a deceptive pop-up window.

Adware, software designed to serve advertising, can usually be thought of as Spyware as well because it almost invariably includes components for tracking and reporting user information. The authors of these applications include additional code that delivers advertising banners, which can be viewed through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on a computer screen.

The cookie is a well-known mechanism for storing information about an Internet user on their own computer. However, the existence of cookies and their use is generally not concealed from users, who can also disallow access to cookie information. Nevertheless, to the extent that a Web site stores information about you in a cookie that you don't know about, the cookie mechanism could be considered a form of Spyware. Apart from the annoyance and invasion of privacy, Spyware/Adware running on your PC will be strangling it, using your system resources and consequently slowing the machine down.  Our engineers are able to remove Spyware and Adware from your computer quickly and efficiently and restore your PC to its former glory.

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