Viruses, malware, and spyware, oh my. The internet can be a scary place. It’s even scarier when you realize that most commercial anti-virus software programs don’t catch all of the icky gunk that tries to infect your computer. In an ideal world, proper internet browsing and email habits would keep you safe and your machine clean, but we all know that making sure that you only go to safe sites and download safe attachments is difficult, especially if a friend of yours is infected and begins to send out virus-laden emails.
So what are the different threats facing your computer, and what do they mean for you?
Viruses – Viruses are bits of code whose intent is to either do harm to your computer or allow the virus-writer to take over your computer or laptop. Viruses are written for many different reasons and by many different people. Some people write computer viruses that simply do damage and spread as quickly as possible solely for the thrill of vandalism. Other more sophisticated programmers, often with connections to criminal organizations around the world, write viruses to hijack computers and laptops for use in hacking attacks against other organizations. Viruses often spread through an infected machine sending out fake emails posing as the infected laptop’s owner to everyone in their contact book. They are also spread through malicious web pages that use exploits or loopholes, in the way internet browsers handle web pages to infect visitors. A defining characteristic of a virus is that it usually requires no special action on the part of the victim to get one, the intent is malicious, the virus presents no easy method of removal, and the virus is capable of spreading by itself.
Spyware – Spyware is any piece of code whose primary motive is stealing your personal information and sending it to the spyware programmer. Oftentimes, this is a function of a computer virus, and happens without the infected computer owners’ knowledge. Not all spyware is a virus, however. Oftentimes, a legitimate or somewhat legitimate piece of software will have spyware components that will monitor things like your browsing history and send it to a central clearinghouse to be sold to marketers. Famous examples of this type of spyware include WeatherBug and CoolWebSearch. Sometimes these programs will mention their spyware components buried deep in their terms of service, but will either neglect it or gloss over it. Spyware is written for many different purposes. Common ones include: gathering online behavior patterns to sell to marketers, tracking internet usage to replace common websites with the programmers own paid alternative (such as changing your search setting from Google Search to an unknown search engine that is used to generate ad traffic), and on the more malicious side of things to steal personal information like names, logins and passwords, social security numbers, and credit card information. The defining characteristic of spyware is that it records your computer activity and disguises or conceals the fact that it is doing so. By that definition, things like legitimate tracking cookies placed on your computer by places like Facebook or Google are not spyware since their function is not disguised and they clearly announce their intention to track your browsing.
Trojans – Named after the Ancient Greek use of a horse to smuggle soldiers into the city of Troy during the Trojan War, a Trojan is a specific type of virus whose purpose is to make your computer more vulnerable to other attacks. Often when it is installed on a victim’s laptop it will create a “back door”, or vulnerability, in your computer’s defense system that allows it to download and install other malicious software. Though not always, a Trojan will often come disguised as a legitimate program and require the user to install it on his or her system. This is one of the primary differences that distinguishes a Trojan from other types of viruses.
Malware – Malware is a generic label that is applied to all types of software and code that maliciously harms a users computer. This includes viruses, Trojans, Spyware, and other programs that seek to harm your computer or your user experience.
So how can you tell if you have a virus? Some common signs include:
Your computer is running unusually poorly or your internet connection seems to be significantly slower than normal.
You get pop-ups with advertising while you are browsing the web, and sometimes even if you don’t have a web browser open.
Your web browser constantly redirects you to sites that look like spam or advertising, or common and popular sites like Google or Bing are replaced with shady-looking search portals.
While browsing, the browser behaves oddly, such as words on web pages suddenly turning into links for advertising.
You suspect that your identity has been stolen or you notice fraudulent charges on your credit cards.
Your friends report getting strange emails from you that you don’t remember sending.
Your computer becomes unusable or you can’t access your programs, or your icons get replaced with spam.
If you suspect you have a malware infection on your computer, don’t panic. First, disconnect your computer from the web so that no more of your information can be stolen. Then, bring it by ALEXPCS Inc. Our computer and laptop repair technicians are pros at isolating and removing viral and other infections, and will make sure your computer and your data is safe and virus free.
Do NOT click on pop-ups that say you have a virus and need to purchase antivirus software. This is a common scam, and entering your private information in the provided form will NOT fix your problem. Bring it by ALEXPCS Inc. immediately for a thorough cleaning.