An Introduction To Spyware and How To Remove It From a Computer

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This guide will introduce you to the basics of how spyware works and what you need to do to protect your online identity as well as your PC’s integrity from online scammers and intrusive spyware driven applications and websites. You learn how spyware works, how to avoid installing spyware, adware, and other ad driven software, as well as understand the basics of cookies and why your computer can pose as a security risk while you are online. You will also learn how and why personal information is so valuable to the developers of spyware based programs.


What Is Spyware?

Spyware is commonly referred to as any software application that attempts to deliver unsolicited advertising based on websites the end user visits. Spyware is also commonly referred to as malware, adware, scumware, and nasty ware. It gets these names because of the intrusiveness of the software and how it has been designed. This kind of software is meant to track your personal information including the websites you visit, how often you visit a particular site, as well as various types of data that fuel the advertising engines in the particular software. Spyware will track your surfing, send the collected information back to a central server, and the central server will then communicate with the software to deliver advertisements to an infected PC. The end result is nothing but intrusive, unwanted, and often annoying advertisements.

Spyware is software that does not intentionally harm your computer. What they do is that they create pathways wherein someone else aside from the computer owner can communicate with the computer. Normally spywares record the various types of web sites you visit which are later used by web advertisers to allow them to send you unwanted emails and pop-ups.

This is why spyware are usually frowned upon and greatly avoided. They are more intrusive than adware. Spyware have their own separate executable programs which allow them to record your keystrokes, scan files on your hard disks and look at other applications that you use including but not limited to chat programs, cookies and Web browser settings.

The spyware then will send the information that it had gathered to the spyware author. The agent will then use this information for advertising and marketing purposes. They even sell the information to advertisers and other parties.

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The Differences Between Adware, Spyware and Anti-virus

Adware, spyware and computer virus share some similarities, one of which is that all three are major nuisances for computer users. Let’s differentiate the three.

  1. Spyware is software that does not intentionally harm your computer. What they do is that they create pathways wherein someone else aside from the computer owner can communicate with the computer. Normally spywares record the various types of web sites you visit which are later used by web advertisers to allow them to send you unwanted emails and pop-ups.This is why spyware are usually frowned upon and greatly avoided. They are more intrusive than adware. Spyware have their own separate executable programs which allow them to record your keystrokes, scan files on your hard disks and look at other applications that you use including but not limited to chat programs, cookies and Web browser settings.The spyware then will send the information that it had gathered to the spyware author. The agent will then use this information for advertising and marketing purposes. They even sell the information to advertisers and other parties.
  2. Adware, on the other hand, are more legitimate form of freeware. Similar to spyware, adwares are advertising materials which are packaged into a software or program and are installed automatically once that particular program or software is added into the computer system. Some forms of adware, on the other hand, download advertising contents as a particular application is being utilized. It is quite unfortunate that most of the adware programs take the form of spywares that is they track and report user information to program authors.

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How Can I Tell If I Am Infected With Spyware?

Some signs of spyware infections include pop-up ads that seem to be not related to the site you are viewing. More often than not, spyware pop-ups are advertisements about adult contents. Also if you notice your computer slowing down, there’s a big chance that spywares and its other components have found their way in your operating system. When the Windows desktop also takes a longer time to load, its best to scan your computer for possible spyware infections.

Meanwhile, viruses are a destructive form of software. They were purely designed and created for one purpose alone: to wreck havoc to your computer. They destroy whatever they come in contact to and will initiate self replication and infect as many components of the computer’s operating system or network as possible.

 

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Why Would I Need Anti-virus Software?

Nowadays, a lot of anti-virus software also provides spyware and adware scanning and removal utilities. Some programs, however, are focused on located and deleting or destroying spyware and adware programs. Whether is an anti-virus software or a anti-spyware dedicated scanner, they both search your computer and identify any spyware and virus installed on your system.

They then remove it as well as their components located in the system registry among other places in your computer. It is therefore, good to regularly update your virus or spyware scanner to ensure that your computer is protected from the thousands of spyware and viruses in the internet. Never be fooled from ads that claim that their products only contain adware.

These adware maybe spyware in disguised and are just waiting to be deployed for them to gather your information. Learn to setup firewall systems and always block pop-up blockers to minimize computer infection and ensure the security of all your computer files.

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Key Term and Definitions Associated With Spyware

When discussing the topic of spyware, adware, and other internet problems, it is necessary for you to understand a few basic key terms and definitions. Listed below are several key terms that provide an explanation and overview of how spyware gets into a PC and why it poses as a security risk.

Active X

  • ActiveX is a Microsoft developed technology that permits Internet applications to use a more powerful platform to run server based programs and are compatible with the Internet Explorer only. When prompted to install an ActiveX control from any web server, ensure that is from a trusted source, and one specifically authorized by you. Most dialers and hijackers are installed through the ActiveX technologies.

Spyware

  • Spyware is a global term associated with any kind of intrusive software known to collect personal information and send it from your computer to another source across the Internet, without your knowledge or authority. You can normally identify spyware based components by reading the End User License Agreements that normally accompanies all software products.

Adware

  • Adware is a less serious form of spyware as it does not transmit any personally identifiable information across the internet. Adware merely displays ads based on the websites you visit and other Internet activity Adware can be just as intrusive as spyware, so be careful which programs that have “neat” or “useful” features. These are readily and freely available for download, but most programs come bundled with some sort of adware built-in.
  • Similar to spyware, adwares are advertising materials which are packaged into a software or program and are installed automatically once that particular program or software is added into the computer system. Some forms of adware, on the other hand, download advertising contents as a particular application is being utilized. It is quite unfortunate that most of the adware programs take the form of spywares that is they track and report user information to program authors.

Keylogger Program

  • Keylogging programs record the your keystrokes and sends the information back to a hacker or other source for further processing. This often leads to online identity theft and other case of online fraud and scams.

Tracking Cookie

  • Cookies are very small files used all over the Internet and useful for companies that want to hear about each time you visit a website that contains their advertisements. Cookies are useful for customizing websites that you may visit regularly, but they should be generally cleared out of the your computer at least once per week.

Browser Hijacker

  • A browser hijacker is a tiny program, file, or windows registry setting that changes the homepage and search pages of Internet Explorer. If your browser’s homepage that has been changed without your authorization, chances are it’s been hijacked by a program quite often by an ActiveX installation control.

Antivirus Program

  • An antivirus program is application software that detects viruses and prevents them from being downloaded off the Internet or installed in your machine. Antivirus programs require weekly updates to ensure the program is protecting your data and files from the latest viruses and other security threats. Most antivirus programs do not have the ability to scan for spyware, although most antivirus developers are incorporating some kind of antispyware defense into their packages.

Software Firewall

  • A software firewall is an application that detects and blocks unauthorized hacker attempts and prevents trojan viruses from being downloaded into a machine. A software firewall places a barrier between your computer and the Internet.

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Types Of Spyware

Spyware — tracking software put onto a computer for the purpose of gathering your personal information without your consent. Some signs of spyware infections include pop-up ads that seem to be not related to the site you are viewing. More often than not, spyware pop-ups are advertisements about adult contents. Also if you notice your computer slowing down, there’s a big chance that spywares and its other components have found their way in your operating system. When the Windows desktop also takes a longer time to load, its best to scan your computer for possible spyware infections.

Adware — places advertisements on a user’s computer in the form of pop-ups.

Malware — short for malicious software, software designed specifically to damage or disrupt a system, such as a virus.

Trojan — also called a Trojan horse, is a software program in which harmful or malicious code is contained within another seemingly harmless program. Trojans can allow hackers to open back-doors on your system, giving them access to your files.

Key Loggers — records every keystroke and takes a periodical screenshot (to steal password and other confidential information) to send to a hacker.

Virus – Viruses are destructive form of software. They were purely designed and created for one purpose alone: to wreck havoc to your computer. They destroy whatever they come in contact to and will initiate self replication and infect as many components of the computer’s operating system or network as possible. viruses are destructive form of software. They were purely designed and created for one purpose alone: to wreck havoc to your computer. They destroy whatever they come in contact to and will initiate self replication and infect as many components of the computer’s operating system or network as possible.

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How Spyware Works

The following illustration shows how typical spyware infections work and the resulting effects are explained in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

How Spyware Works to Infiltrate a Desktop or Laptop Computer
Figure 1.1 – How Spyware Works to Infiltrate a Desktop or Laptop Computer

Phase One – Spyware Enters The Computer

step 1 how spyware infiltrates your PC

Spyware normally enters a PC through this phase. Either the computer user has unknowingly download a file from a website or clicked on a link within a webpage that downloaded an ActiveX control. or installed software that was bundled with known spyware components. The following illustration shows what happens when you click on a link that attempts to install an ActiveX control through Internet Explorer:

Screenshot of an ActiveX Control Being Used with an Out-dated Version Of Internet Explorer
Figure 1.2 – Screenshot of an ActiveX Control Being Used with an Outdated Version Of Internet Explorer

If you were to click yes to the dialog box shown above, more than likely you are inviting a piece of spyware into your system. However, it is also important to note that millions of webpages include legitimate ActiveX controls which provide added functionality for a particular website, so not all of these types of controls are comprised of malicious code. The best rule of thumb is if you don’t trust the origin of the website that is prompting you to install the control, or if it is not something that you expected, then simply choose No to not install the control. It is always recommended to check the validity of any webpage you visit before installing any controls from the corresponding server.

You can also obtain spyware from what appears to be useful software but are typically bundled with some type of third party component that is considered spyware. For example, many toolbar applications may appear to be useful applications, but are bundled with some type of spyware normally designed to slow down an end-user’s PC.

Here’s a list of some common software applications prone to have spyware bundled with them:

  • Free Toolbar applications – these are small applications that integrate with major web browser applications to provide an added functionality such as surfing all major search engines at one time, or finding the best deals on eBay.

Once permission is granted for the piece of software to get installed, the program can make modifications to the Windows registry so that it has the appropriate permissions to be executed on a periodic basis. Again, all this can happen if you click on a link in a webpage too quickly, and your PC is not properly secured with a firewall, real time virus scanner, and antispyware applications.

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The second way spyware can be loaded into your system is by installing a third party application that contains known spyware. There is a magnitude of available freeware based programs out there all claiming to serve a functional purpose. Some may claim to make it the most simplest way to store passwords and fill out forms in webpages. Other spyware programs may claim to be an antispyware utility, but actually contain malware based components. Malware is short for the term malicious software, which is illegal software comprised of knock off or look-a-like style components found in legitimate applications. Falcon Antispyware is one example of malware that, when gains entry into a PC system gets loaded with spyware components. Disguised as legitimate software, Falcon Antispyware was made into a piece of malware that used spyware techniques to try and persuade you to purchase the software by rediecting you to a phony website where you could purchase a fake version of the real software. Once infected, the Falcon spyware program displayed an icon in the windows task bar that when provoked informed a user that their PC was infected, and they needed to run security software immediately to remove the infections.

File sharing programs such as Kazaa, Limewire, and BearShare, are all known to be bundled with some spyware components. Although these kinds of programs claim to have no real spyware based components included with them, these types of peer-to-peer file sharing applications are especially loaded with several different spyware components and activated when the software gets installed. These components typically track a user’s surfing habits while connected to any server the program used to distributes files and programs.

Although peer-to-peer applications and file sharing networks are not illegal, if you install any of these programs there will be a considerable slow down in a PC’s performance. This performance slow down is not caused by the actual peer-to-peer software, it is caused by the bundled components that install along with the software. Therefore,  if you run file sharing programs on a regular basis it is advisable for you to run anti-spyware scans at regular intervals to detect any installed spyware components.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that a large amount of freeware applications are bundled with some type of spyware. Unfortunately the use of those particular application constitute your acceptance of the license agreement accompanied with the software. I highly recommend you to investigate the origin of a particular application before installing it into your system to avoid problems.

To reiterate, if a product claims to be a freeware application, do your homework and search the Internet to find information about the software before you install it onto your system. After all preventative maintenance is about the best medicine for a problem that will never go away.


Phase Two – Spyware Tracks Your Surfing Habits The More You Use An Infected Program

Phase Two of How Spyware Works

Unfortunately, Spyware is a global problem, and since there is no real authoritative figure who governs the Internet the activity will continue to exist and, perhaps, get worse as more people fall victim to spyware threats. So your best defense if your computer is at this phase is to get rid of the software that you think caused the problem, reboot the computer, and run an anti-spyware scan. For novice users, this is often a daunting task. However, with the quality developments in security and Internet defense, novice users can usually get rid of spyware infections themselves using a variety of software applications and instructions.

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Phase Three – Collection and Transmission of Personal Information

Phase Three of How Spyware Works

The third phase of how spyware works involves the collection and transmission of personally identifiable information across the Internet. Once spyware components get installed and run on a regularly basis, the components will obtain enough information about you to create what is known as a market profile. This is where your information is then sold back to a larger company who sends you ads based on the criteria included in your market profile. The more spyware spies on you, the more money these advertising companies can make because they are able to direct the most suitable advertisements to your end with hopes of you purchasing the lame product or service being advertised. There are also internet criminals known to prey off the personal information from Internet users. They are more than likely able to steal credit card and bank account information, as well as other financially related information in hopes of financial gain. However, this topic is referred to as Identity Theft and goes beyond the scope of this report.

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Phase Four – Spyware Causes Problems

Phase Four of How Spyware Works

Phase four of how spyware works is not necessarily limited to the end of the entire cycle. It is more prevalent in all cycles because the more spyware you have installed in the system, the slower your computer is going to run, and the more personal information it can collect. Each spyware installed program eats up portions of memory and processor usage often resulting in a user having to restart the machine to solve the problem. Although this procedure may solve the problem, it is normally a temporary solution, as the spyware continues to remain resident the moment you may have restarted the system. As stated in a previous section, common symptoms of a spyware infected computer includes a browser being hijacked, highly visible 3rd party toolbar’s showing in the web browser, remote dialing software being activated by somebody across the Internet, as well large variety of unauthorized popup advertising. The easy think about pop-up windows is that they can be blocked fairly easily with ad blocking software such as Ad Block Plus a donate what you can based utility available for most major web browsers.

Since spyware is normally unnoticeable and untouchable during an active Windows session, your sluggish PC will have programs that cannot open or crash unexpectedly. The bottom line is that once spyware has been installed, your PC and personal information is liable to suffer as the aftermath. You will need to ensure your PC’s is equipped with an antispyware utility that can be used to remove spyware from a system.

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How To Identify An Infected PC

Spyware can trick you into thinking you are getting a program that simplifies a particular computer task Unfortunately, these “make it easier” programs add extra functionality to your computer and simplify how you surf the web, they are most likely spying on you at the same time tracking your surfing behaviors, tracking the websites you visit, among other things. It is not always an easy thing to do when identifying an infected PC.

If you are having problems viewing websites through a web browsers chances are your system is infected with spyware.

Performance issues are also an indicator that there’s spyware installed in a system. If a PC is running slower then what it used to chances are its infested and you will need to clean out the system with an anti-spyware cleaner.

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Introduction To Cookies

Cookies are tiny data files located on your hard drive that contain information related to websites you visit. For example, a cookie may store your login information for a particular website or certain customizable features of the website you are visiting such as page themes and colors, etc. Most web browsing applications can be setup in such a way to not accept cookies.

Cookies also store configuration settings that are specific to the website you are trying to load. Although cookies pose as a security threat, a good firewall application helps block a possible intruder from obtaining information in the cookies residing on a computer.

Deleting cookies is also one of the best ways to optimize your PC’s performance. The more cookie files built up into a system, the harder your web browser is going to need to work to try and fetch websites that you regularly visit.

For some people cookies are an invaluable tool to save time completing repetitive tasks on websites; for other people including large corporations and businesses, cookies tend to pose as a security risk in their entire system infastructure.

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How To Remove Spyware From Infected PC’s:

To remove spyware from an infected PC you will need a variety of tools and cleaner based software applications.

It is not a difficult to a perform a scan to see if there are any spyware applications installed in a system. There are plenty of freeware and commercial tools that will scan a PC for infections. The more programs you can add to your arsenal of defense the happier your PC will run. This page provides an overview of the most popular Antispyware removal tools out there for desktop computers.

Spybot Search And Destroy

Spybot Search and Destroy Provided By Safer-Networking.org Simplifies The Spyware Removal Process and is a Powerful Program For Removing Spyware Based Components.
Spybot Search and Destroy Provided By Safer-Networking.org Simplifies The Spyware Removal Process and is a Powerful Program For Removing Spyware Based Components.

The first program I make reference to for Spyware removal is called Spybot Search And Destroy provided by Safer- Networking.org. This utility is available as a free download from the Safer Networking website. It is completely free for home users but for commercial use you are required to purchase a license from the software developer.

The developers have created a tutorial that provides a walk through for download, installing, and running the software on a PC. Click here to access that tutorial.

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 Trend Micro™ Titanium™ Antivirus +

Trend Micro™ Titanium™ Antivirus + makes security effortless by providing you with a friendly interface that’s a snap to install. It features set-and-forget protection that won’t pester you with annoying alerts and pop-ups
Trend Micro™ Titanium™ Antivirus + makes security effortless by providing you with a friendly interface that’s a snap to install. It features set-and-forget protection that won’t pester you with annoying alerts and pop-ups+ makes security effortless by providing you with a friendly interface that’s a snap to install. It features set-and-forget protection that won’t pester you with annoying alerts and pop-ups

It is available for a thirty day trial download. The registered version of the full security package costs $39.99. Currently it is discounted 25% to $29.99 price but don’t know how long that will last.

This software will:

  • Blocks viruses, malware, and dangerous links shared through email and Instant messaging.
  • Identify safe and malicious search result links in Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox.
  • Identify safe and malicious links in popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
  • Feature a friendly interface that’s a snap to install and use.
  • Provide you with simple screens and clear, easy-to-understand reports.

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Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 

MalwareBytes free version is completely free to use forever, but there is no proactive techniques to prevent malware from entering your computer; you'll need to upgrade to a registered version to enable these features.
MalwareBytes free version is completely free to use forever, but there is no proactive techniques to prevent malware from entering your computer; you’ll need to upgrade to a registered version to enable these features.

This software focuses on proactive techniques to remove malware (malicious software) from entering a desktop computer. It automatically blocks malicious websites from loading and prevents execution of infected files. It is available for a free 14 day trial and the registered version costs only $51.99 which includes one year of updates o r $77.99 for two year of updates.

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Lavasoft Adaware Free Antivirus

Adaware is another free utility to help protect your computer from viruses, worms, and malware. A PRO version is available for a $36
Adaware is another free utility to help protect your computer from viruses, worms, and malware. A PRO version is available for a $36

The free version is completely free to use forever but a paid upgrade costs only $12 per year which includes download and online shopping protection engines among other features.

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Super Antispyware

SUPERAntiSpyware is a software application which can detect and remove spyware, adware, trojan horses, rogue security software, computer worms, rootkits, parasites and other potentially harmful software applications.
SUPERAntiSpyware is a software application which can detect and remove spyware, adware, trojan horses, rogue security software, computer worms, rootkits, parasites and other potentially harmful software applications.

Super Antispyware is completely free software and works to remove spyware infections automatically. A PRO version is available for a $29.95.The free version is completely free to use forever, but there is no proactive techniques to prevent spyware from entering your computer; you’ll need to upgrade to a registered version to enable these features. These features include an automated scanner which can be scheduled to run at intervals you specify, and automatic updating function. The pro version is however, available for a free 30 day trial and the registered version costs only $24.95 which comes with one year of updates.

Leaner, meaner, faster. Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ combines a legendary Anti-spyware with a super fast, free Antivirus. It now features download protection (blocks malicious files before being written to disk), sand boxing (keeps unknown apps running in a virtual environment) and advanced detection – it’s the most powerful free antivirus yet.

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Well there you have it. I have attempted to give you a overview of what Spyware is, how it works, and how you can go about removing possible infections from a computer. In this sophisticated technological era that we live, you need to use proactive techniques to help keep your computer and it’s associated data free from threats. With the right tools, even if you have unknowingly downloaded a spyware component, you can easily feel assured that the programs available will get you back on track by erasing any annoying spyware component that you may come across.

Happy computing to all my readers.

 

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