Just when you thought it was safe to surf the Internet, a wide-range of possibilities are known to attack a computer and cause mayhem within system files, significant applications, and most importantly â€“ your privacy. The name alone is enough to send shivers up and down your back, as hackers and people with malicious intentions are developing newer ways to infiltrate your personal online life. The worst part is â€“ your computer could suffer from the stronghold that spyware places on a PC and not even know it.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is a program created with the aim to track online activity after it has been downloaded onto a computer. In the World Wide Web, there are many different kinds of spyware with varying levels of annoyance and destruction. While some spyware programs are only interested in keeping an eye on your Internet habits, there are others that collect private information for another’s personal gain.
A spyware program may send a few pop-up advertisements decorating your computer screen, but at the same time, could be scanning your computer for usernames, passwords, non-public IDs, credit card information, and any other details you enter into the websites you visit. Some spyware can monitor chat transcripts, as well as email usage and their contents .
Today, there are a multitude of ways that spyware may enter a computer, making it increasingly hard to avoid. Just when you think you are installing a new program to make life easier, spyware may lurk in the shadows. Many times, programs with the goal to collect data are included in bundle packages that are installed without the knowledge of a user. They may sit undetected in the computer system for months. During that time, the level of vulnerability and threat to privacy increases. Overall, spyware can pose serious harm to a computer and the personal interests of its users.
The Negative Effects of Spyware
Not all computers compromised by spyware will display the same kind of problems. Spyware may cause a computer to run slow by seriously draining PC power, or cause programs to lock-up or freeze. Odd or an excessive amount of pop-up ads may appear. A change in Internet Explorer “favorites” may occur, where unknown websites have now become part of your personal collection. Some users may see that a new Internet Explorer toolbar has been installed.
The default homepage that appears with the start of your browser or when the “home” button is selected may become modified. In regards to emails, a user may experience correspondences that bounce back or receive complaints of emails that were sent without their knowledge. A computer user may also notice that their CD or hard drives are spinning for no reason. Spyware also sometimes affects the ability to print.
There is even a form of spyware that can actually authorize 1-900 number charges onto a telephone bill. This type of clever program essentially hangs up your usual connection to the Internet and instructs your PC to dial a 1-900 number without your detection .
One of the worst problems that spyware causes a computer user is the invasion and violation of privacy. Some spyware can snatch up the details of your email address book, copy your personal chats with family and friends, record the information stored on your online banking sites, obtain credit card information, and take advantage of all the usernames and passwords you use on the Internet. All spyware has to do is invade your temporary files, cookie files, temporary download files, email address files, log-in files, cache files, and archived history information in order to completely turn your life upside-down.
How to Prevent Spyware
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dealing with a spyware-infected computer is to monitor and control your activities on the Internet. Since spyware requires the actions of a human to reach the files stored on their PC, it is important to follow common preventive measures to lessen the probability of coming into contact with harmful online materials. It is important to note that there is no one program or solitary cure that completely prevents or eliminates spyware, but there are many prevention tips to consider that will hopefully prevent hackers, identity thieves, and cyber-terrorists from infiltrating your PC. Helpful tips include:
a) Protection Software:
There are numerous ways to utilize spyware prevention software to your advantage. Locating reliable anti-virus software is quite important, and should have earned high ratings within the computer protection industry. A firewall is another installation that helps prevent spyware, as it acts like an interior security system for the information stored on your computer. Firewalls are known to stop other computers from gaining access to your PC. While many computers already have firewalls installed (such as Windows XP), many users are unaware of their existence and simply need to turn them on. Some users also run an additional independent firewall to be on the safe side.
b) Updates Are Essential:
Whatever protection software you possess, it is vital to keep it up-to-date. Your computer protection becomes weakened when the latest spyware techniques are allowed to take advantage of your PC. Each month, a staggering 500+ newly created viruses make their way onto the Internet and the only way to keep up is to stay guarded with the most current protection .
c) Avoid Careless Clicks:
Computer users who carelessly click on unknown links, open email attachments sent by unknown people, or have a habit of constantly downloading cutesy programs that promise to better organize the desktop, install an animated cursor, or download hundreds of “fun IM smileys” â€“ increases their risk of downloading spyware.
For example, sometimes an online advertisement appears and a user clicks on the ad. It is not uncommon to see a pop-up window appear that asks the user if they are interested in downloading a certain program. Even if the user clicks “no,” the program may self-download and install without the knowledge of the user. Clicking on unknown links may also lead one to a web page that automatically downloads malicious spyware without permission.
d) Question Odd or Free Software:
Before you install something onto your computer, you better know exactly what it is you are allowing access to your system. There are many different types of applications on the Internet that carry malicious intent. A trick to seeing the kinds of things a particular download consists of is to use a “custom” install that allows you to pick and choose programs. You’d be surprised at how many spyware selections are bundled in free software downloads.
e) Check For Uninstall Programs or Instructions:
A dead giveaway that you are about to download malicious software onto your computer involves gaming programs, applications, and other materials that lack an uninstall program or instructions. This is often a spyware author’s attempt to make it hard to have their software removed from a computer, thus prolonging the amount of time they have to leech onto a computer system. Uninstall programs that do not appear in the Add/Remove program features of an operating system is a clue that you may have spyware on your hands.
f) Read all Security Warnings:
When new software is being installed onto your computer, it is important to pay attention to the “Security Warning” screens that appear before the download takes place. Often, vital information is included that will help you make the best decisions regarding the health and safety of your PC.
g) Read the End User Licensing Agreement:
Even if you trust a company, you should get into the habit of checking license agreements and privacy disclosures. Scanning a full description of the download you intend on receiving is also highly recommended. Almost all legitimate software installations will provide consumers with an End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) that offers a wealth of information pertaining to the download. When the documentation is unclear or difficult to locate, the software may contain unwanted components.
h) Install Yahoo or Google Toolbar:
Computer users receive two main benefits from installing either the Google or Yahoo version of toolbar. For starters, one may easily perform an online search directly from Internet Explorer, while secondly, reputable pop-up blockers are included with their installation. Usually, a significant amount of unwanted information and windows is avoided when using this type of blocker .
Let’s face it â€“ those lengthy privacy policies and terms of agreement that websites offer the public are often ignored. Malicious software creators bank on this online laziness and poor Internet habits. If you are truly interested in downloading something onto your computer and wish to prevent spyware installations, you should take the time to read all policies, which often lay out the details on what type of information their business collects and how they intend on using it.
j) Live By the “X”:
When it comes to closing windows you are not interested in, never choose the selections marked “OK” or “yes.” Often times, spyware installations are waiting behind these buttons and are only baiting you to click on a button that gives them the chance to download onto your computer. To close annoying windows, always click on the “x” located in the upper right corner.