By Brenda Mahoney
Adware, spyware, malware, trojans...it never ends. New threats seem to jump online everyday. It's almost impossible to keep track of what the threats are, what they do and how the threats can put you at risk for identity theft. By Brenda Mahoney
You certainly don't want any of these programs installed on your computer system, but it is even more critical that you understand which malware threats are the most dangerous and which programs you should be diligent in purging from your system.
We have compiled a quick reference on the threats that you will more than likely come across while surfing on the internet and which threats you should remove immediately to prevent identity theft from happening to you.
Spyware: The main intention of most spyware is just that...to spy on you as you surf the internet. To analyze where you go, when you go there, and what you do once you get there. Advertisers use this compiled information to identify what your habits are with intention of putting an irresistible sales pitch before you that you just can't refuse but instead will prompt you to whip out your credit card and make a purchase.
The information gathered can even be more invasive to your privacy by obtaining your IP address that you are assigned when connecting to the internet and matching it to your network card's MAC address. The combination of this collected data with your surfing habits can give advertisers a very clear portrayal of your like and dislikes.
Now I have been conditioned to accept the reality that I am going to be bombarded with advertisements at just everything I do, and I also believe in the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar, but I am not willing to give up every aspect of my privacy while online to help someone make an easy buck.
Adware: Adware programs are usually just plain irritating and can vary from a flashing banner ad, a pop up ad, a toolbar newly installed, to a hijacked search or home page. Adware can often cause conflicts in your system and slow the system to a crawl, possibly rendering your system nonfunctional.
Adware programs are usually packaged together with freeware programs and are installed simultaneously with the freeware program. The adware allows the author to give away his freeware program and still streamline a profit by receiving an income serving ads to you instead of charging you for the program. During installation of the program you are forced to accept the EULA (End-User License Agreement) which allows the advertiser to market directly to you in exchange for the free software.
The goal of some advertisers is to serve you targeted ads by tracking your web habits by installing an additional component to perform this function. In this situation the adware is no longer deemed just adware but instead its status is elevated to the spyware category.
Malware: Malware normally encompasses a variety of programs that can include Trojans, viruses, and worms. Malware is usually intent on causing varying levels of destruction on your system and is normally installed without your knowledge.
Viruses: Viruses received their name due to their ability to multiply and spread from PC to PC. Newbie programmers wanted to show off their recently acquired programming skills and wrote 'prankster' viruses to achieve this goal. Though viruses were initially coded for fun, there are always those who seek to exploit and viruses evolved to performing vicious acts on computer systems rather than just a 'funny' prank.
Worms: A worm is another form of a virus that is programmed to cause some variety of destruction similar to a virus. A worm is replicated by making copies of itself within the computer's memory.
Dialers: Dialers are programs that make a connection to the internet without your knowledge. Dialers often dial 900 numbers and leave you to pay the huge bill that it racks up. Connecting to an expensive internet service provider is another method of a dialer to incur expenses on your behalf. Users of broadband connections can still be at risk if they have a connected modem in their computer.
Trojans: Trojans gain access to your system by opening a backdoor in your computer that gives the offender complete access to your files to do as they wish, including manipulating and viewing your password files stored on the computer.
Once a Trojan is installed, it is usually exploited by many hackers. Most hackers wish to remain anonymous and therefore won't do anything noticeable that would make you aware of their presence. The intent of many Trojans is to transparently use your computer as a zombie to attack web sites or send out email spam.
Assume an internet site is attacked and an investigation follows, where do you think the trail will lead the police...why, straight to your front door of course, meanwhile, the hacker gets off scott-free.
Keyloggers: Keylogger programs are somewhat self explanatory, that is, they log every key you type on your keyboard. That also includes usernames and passwords on websites, such as your bank's website. The hacker can set up a keylogger program to email your typed information to him to use as he sees fit.
There is an abundance of keylogger programs that are free and available for download on the internet. Most people use keyloggers to monitor their spouses or children. Concerned about my children's safety online when they first discovered the internet, I set up and tested a few freely available programs to monitor their online activities. They are remarkably simple to set up and operate.
Physical access to a user's computer is not necessary to install a keylogger program but it does make the scenario a bit easier. Often keylogger programs are sent through email and installed automatically from there. That is another reason to avoid opening any email attachments no matter how tempting they look.
Greatest threats to your identity: So what is the greatest threat to your identity? As you have probably figured out by now, that the greatest threats will usually come from Trojans and keyloggers. It is critical that you take steps to analyze your system for these threats and eliminate them immediately.
It would be my advice to run anti-virus, anti-trojan and anti-spyware removers on your system immediately and to run them on a regular basis once you have removed the threats to ensure you aren't re-infected.
I run several of each programs to be sure I haven't missed anything...but then again, I borderline on being obsessive when it comes to protecting my system and preventing identity theft.
Keep an eye out for our up-and-coming series on reviews of the best anti-virus, anti-trojan and anti-spyware programs to use on your system.
About the Author
Brenda Mohney - Founder of Identity Theft Security, a site dedicated to providing tools and tips to help people prevent identity theft.