It goes by different names. Spyware, adware and malware are some of the more popular monikers. It really doesn't matter what you call it, though. The bottom line is that you don't want it on your computer. First of all, let me state for the record that I think the internet is a wonderful thing. I think a majority of people would agree that the World Wide Web has made life for all of us a little more convenient. Whether it's reserving a hotel room, buying music online, checking the local weather or any number of thousands of useful sites (did I mention email?) we all have gotten a little bit spoiled with having all this information right at our fingertips. That being said though, sometimes we seem to get a little complacent and let our guard down. We forget that the internet has a seedy side full of ways for unscrupulous people to con honest (if not a little niaeve) people out of their money (or worse!). In this article, I'll cover a few of the pitfalls that many people tend to have trouble with.
Adware: This type of malware is designed to do one thing and one thing only. Get you to buy something. Once this type of software has infected your computer, you will start getting a lot of pop-up ads. Sometimes these ads are the pop-under type. Pop-under's get by any pop-up blockers by generating an ad without stealing the focus from the web page that your viewing. You usually won't even know it's there until you close your browser and see the ad (or ads) displayed on your desktop. Generally, this type of malware is little more than an annoyance, but sometimes multiple instances can cause major slowdowns in your PC or even cause system crashes. Adware is usually bundled with some other "free" software such as free desktop wallpaper, icons or screensavers. It may or may not be disclosed in the end-user license agreement (EULA) of the free software, but even when it is, most people never read those agreements anyway. If you want to protect your computer from this type of malware, you should ALWAYS be suspicious of free software.
Spyware: Spyware does exactly what it's name implies. It spies on you. Well, actually it spies on your web surfing and purchasing habits. The information that is collected is usually then sold to unscrupulous vendors who target you with spam email. Again, this type of marketing is usually just an annoyance, but anytime your privacy is compromised (especially by some sleazy dirtbag who will do anything to make a buck) there is cause for concern.
Trojan Horses: Sometimes simply known as "Trojans", these, in my humble opinion, are the worst offenders. If you know the story of the Trojan War, then the name given to these vicious baddies will make perfect sense to you. Here's the way it works: You are happily surfing along the internet, minding your own business, when all of the sudden a banner pops up and cheerfully anounces that you have won a FREE IPHONE (or a free laptop computer, or a free vacation, etc.). All you have to do to claim this generous prize, it seems, is to "CLICK HERE!". Trust me on this one, do not ever, EVER, "CLICK HERE!". BIG MISTAKE! What you're doing with that click, is allowing malware to be downloaded to your computer that will make your life miserable and, as an added bonus, you'll never get your free prize.
Another popular trojan pops up a warning dialog helpfully pointing out that your computer "may be infected with spyware". The mysterious dialog offers to remove the threat for you if you will just (you guessed it) "CLICK HERE". The premise is a little different, but the scam is the same. Some anonymous total stranger randomly offers to do something really nice for you if you'll just take the bait, umm, I mean accept the generous offer. Once you make that click and download their "antispyware" product, you will be inundated with warnings about the vicious viruses on your PC and you will be informed that the "free" version of their software can't remove the threats, but if you'll just upgrade to the "Gold" version for $49.95... well, you get the picture.
Well, There you have it. Some of the more common ways that spyware and adware can infect your PC. This is by no means a complete list. The people who come up with these schemes seem to have no limits to their imagination or their audacity, so be wary.
There are many different ways that PC users can protect themselves. First and foremost, make sure that your computer has a good antivirus/antispyware program installed and that your virus definitions are up to date. I'm always surprised when I get a call from a customer that has a severe infestation of malware on their PC and they tell me that they have antivirus on their computer only to find out that they never actually purchased the trial version of AV software that came bundled with the PC. It's not uncommon for me to work on a PC whose owner thinks that they have virus protection even though their subscription for definition updates expired long ago. I really can't stress this enough. Virus protection is absolutely essential.
Maybe even more important than protective software though, is common sense. The old adage that "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" rings true. Don't get me wrong, there really are some great free things available to you on the web. The main thing you should be wary of is that offer that tries to invoke a "knee-jerk" reaction. These guys want you to click first and think later. So before you "CLICK HERE", stop and ask yourself "does it sound too good?"
Scott Drinkard (The Computer Guy) is a self -employed computer service tech living and working in Odessa, Texas. The owner of Odessa based "The Computer Guy" has been helping the good people of West Texas with their computer problems for about 10 years. Please visit http://www.odessacomputerguy.com for more information.
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