PROFITABLE VIRUSES: Spyware, adware and computer worms
ORGANISED crime online has become rife over the last few years with more and more computer and Internet users falling victim to phishing and different forms of viruses and spyware. Gone are the days of hackers creating viruses for sport; we are now entering a new era where viruses are being deliberately developed and spread for potential profit – huge profit.
Antivirus software is becoming big business, not only because new viruses are constantly being created or ‘improved’ that can bypass existing antivirus software, but also because people are living in fear of getting a nasty infection and losing all their valuable data.
Many people are also scammed into purchasing antivirus or anti-spyware software by being made to believe that their pc is infected. There are many ways that any computer connected to the Internet can become infected or accessed by viruses and spyware. These are outlined below along with some easy-to-apply suggestions for protecting your digital self.
Malicious Software: Spyware & Adware
Tracking software, such as spyware and adware, work by gathering information from a computer or Internet user without their knowledge. This information is often relayed to advertisers or other interested parties, which will then spam you with adverts and false security warnings. Spyware can get on your computer as a software virus or as a result of installing a new program off the Internet.
Spyware is often installed without a user’s consent – usually as a result of clicking on a dodgy pop-up window. Spyware that is specifically designed to serve advertising is known as adware, and is becoming rife in the online world. Any software that gathers information about you without your consent is an infringement of your privacy and is considered as malicious. Spyware actually forms part of an overall public concern over privacy on the Internet.
The image alongside is an example of spyware that looks like an active anti-virus solution. Such windows will often direct you to the anti-virus website in an attempt to make a sale.
The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect. Such software can slowly collect and leak various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits, most frequently-visited websites and even credit card information. Spyware is also known to change a computer’s settings, often resulting in slower connection speeds, failure to run certain programs and having your web browser’s activity redirected for potential profit.
“Unlike viruses and worms, spyware does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware - by design - exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements, theft of personal information (including financial information), monitoring of web-browsing activity for marketing purposes, and routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.” – Wikipedia.
Worms are nasty business as they can independently reproduce and spread across network connections. They can spread via email, instant messaging and file-sharing.
The spreading of worms is most prominent via infected email messages. Any form of attachment or link in an email may contain a link to an infected website. If the user clicks on the link or opens the attachment in an infected email, the worm can quickly infect your PC without you knowing.
Microsoft Outlook is renowned for spreading such emails and users should be wary of any unexpected emails they receive. Email worms are also known to harvest email addresses from an infected computer and can also construct new sender addresses, making it difficult to determine the original source of the worm.
Internet worms work by scanning the Internet for vulnerable machines (i.e. ones that are not properly protected against viruses and malicious software). An attempt will be made to connect to these machines and gain full access to them.
Chat channels are the main target for Internet worms whereby the same method of infection and spreading occurs (i.e. the sending of infected files or links to infected websites). If such links are clicked on, the worm will copy itself into a shared folder – usually under a harmless name.
Spyware, viruses & anti-virus software: Protecting your PC
At this point I could probably sell my own antivirus software to any reader that fears their computer may be at risk. This is often how antivirus companies sell their products. Some are even known to have created viruses and spyware of their own in order to justify the need for their product.
There is a copious amount of anti-virus and anti-spyware software available – some for free and some for a price. Generally speaking, the pricier and most popular products are better, such as Norton, NOD32 and AVG. However, there are free and equally safe options too.
Avast and Kaspersky Internet Security have both become hugely popular as they are both free and efficient. I personally use Avast5 for easy-to-use purposes. Once downloaded and installed, Avast will automatically update itself on a regular basis and keep your PC protected from new threats. However, it is also important to always be cautious when surfing in unfamiliar territory and never open an attachment which appears strange.