One day, you suddenly realize that your computer started to work

noticeably slower than it used to. You decide to run

de-fragmentation of your hard drive and add more virtual memory

to the system. No luck! May be, it’s probably some viruses, you

reckon turning on your virus scanning software. Even after

running the anti-virus program you notice that the problem won’t

resolve. Not understanding what’s happening frustrated you pick

up the phone. It’s time to call your tech-support. Sounds

familiar? You are not alone! Each day, thousands of users are

facing similar problems caused by malicious software called

Spyware. According to Dell technical support, nowadays 12

percent of their support calls involve problems related to some

kinds of Spyware. Microsoft reports that fifty percent of all

computer crushes are caused by Spyware, viruses and Trojans.

What is a Spyware?

Spyware – also named Malware or Adware – are malicious software

programs, which most of the time get installed on your computer

without your knowledge. These programs are capable of doing many

outrageous, sinister things to your computer such as changing

computer settings, tracking your online behavior, monitoring and

controlling your computer, recording your keystrokes, displaying

unwanted advertisement and reporting needed information back to

the person behind it.

The main types of Spyware are:

Key loggers: This type of Spyware copies everything you type to

a file and send it to the hacker. The more sophisticated type,

which is used for identity theft, copies the information you

provide when you are connected to a secure website.

Browser hijacker: It modifies browser settings without your

permission. This Spyware is capable of changing your start page,

search page, search tool bar and redirect your url to specific

pages.

Email redirector: Surreptitiously copies all your incoming and

outgoing emails and sends to the hacker.

Dialers: This spyware install themselves to your dial-up settings

and dials numbers without your knowledge, often to out of country

numbers.

Collectware: The purpose of this Spyware is to track your surfing

habit and transmitting the statistical data to the hacker. This

information later gets sold to advertisement companies.

Adware: This Spyware downloads all sorts of banner advertisements

every time you take some action such as typing a word on your

search tool.

Why my antivirus program does not block a Spyware?

Although, Spyware uses same tactics like “Trojan” virus,

technically it is not a virus. A virus is a program written to

create trouble or possibly harm your computer system. Viruses are

capable of replicate, evolve and cause severe damages to your

computer files, registry or even hardware. Spyware, on the other

hand, does not harm your computer intentionally. Any nuisance

like system slow down is the collateral damage, which occurs

while the Spyware serves its mission of monitoring your

activities and making unwanted changes to your user experience.

People rarely read the fine prints of the user agreements while

downloading a file, a program, a game or other free stuffs from

the Internet. Unethical sites use this to their advantage and

add tiny Spyware with the file you are downloading.

The anti-virus programs can not be sure, whether this program is

installed deliberately by you or it’s a malicious Spyware. This

makes identifying and blocking a Spyware difficult for an

Anti-virus program. However, things are started to change! Major

anti-virus companies are planning to integrate anti-spyware

programs to their existing products very soon.

How did I get infected with a Spyware?

There are numerous ways how you might end up with having a

Spyware on your system.

– When you download and install programs, games, smilies, pictures, screensavers from dubious sites, there is a big chance that you might install a sneaky Spyware along the way.

– Some websites and pop-up windows try to download and install Spyware while you are there. According a recent analysis of sex-based websites, up to 80 percent of these sites are now being used to upload Spyware, worms and Trojans to unsuspecting visitors.

– Some add-ons to you browser that is supposed to enhance your browser experience may secretively install Spyware.

– The most cynical method of infecting you with Spyware is when you receive a sudden pop-up ad, which claims that your computer is contaminated and you have to run certain program to cure your system. If you are credulous enough to run this program, it just installs a Spyware instead of eliminating any.

How to fight back?

If you carefully follow the instructions outlined below, your chances

of getting infected with Spyware are pretty slim.

Update your Windows

Allow your version of Windows to update it automatically. Ensure that

you have all the latest security patches installed.

Use Firefox as your default browser

Since Internet Explorer is the main target for many Spyware, you will

be better of with Mozilla Firefox. Moreover, it is a better browser

than IE in many aspects.

Be extremely careful with your downloads

Try not to download anything from a unknown site. If you still feel

like getting a shareware or freeware program check it out on one of

these online Spyware database. Spychecker (http://www.spychecker.com/)

is one such service, and Camtech 2000’s Spy Chaser

(http://camtech2000.net/Pages/SpyChaser.html)

is a nifty downloadable database of nearly

1000 spyware-infested programs.

Use an Anti-Spyware application

Download and install one of the following anti-spyware programs:

Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/),

Spybot (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/spybotsd/index.html)

and Microsoft AntiSpyware. Although, Microsoft’s Anti-Spyware

(http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx)

is still at beta stage, I am using it and very happy

with its performance.

Get a Firewall

If you are using Windows XP with Service Pack 2, you are probably

fine! In other cases, if your computer is connected to the Internet

directly you should get a firewall and install it. Zone alarm

(http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp) is a

great firewall you can download for free.

A recently conducted survey of the Top Network Security threats in

2005 reveals that two-thirds of IT managers and administrators

believe that Spyware will be the number one threat to network

security. So don’t take any chance! Make sure that you are protected!

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One day, you suddenly realize that your computer started to work noticeably slower than it used to. You decide to run de-fragmentation of your hard drive and add more virtual memory to the system. No luck! May be, it's probably some viruses, you reckon turning on your virus scanning software....