Majority of Home Computers Infected with Spyware

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Majority of Home Computers Infected with Spyware

Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise, the Internet is not a safe place to take your computer systems without adequate protection. It wasn’t too long ago that anti-virus and firewall software could provide your systems with more than enough security to safely cruise the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet has become a haven for far too many unscrupulous companies and individuals who actively engage in developing and then enticing you to place software on your computers purposefully designed to invade your privacy in ways that cannot be described as anything but sinister.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a not-for-profit, public-private partnership focused on driving awareness and promoting education of cyber security, and NCSA member America Online, Inc., today released the results of one of the largest and most comprehensive in-home studies ever conducted on the security of computer users.

The AOL/NCSA Online Safety Study found that most computer users think they are safe but lack basic protections against viruses, spyware, hackers, and other online threats. In addition, large majorities of home computer users have been infected with viruses and spyware and remain highly vulnerable to future infections. Yet at the same time, most keep sensitive personal and financial information on their computers.

The AOL/NCSA study showed that –

* 80% of Home Computers Infected with Spyware/Adware

* 49% of Broadband Users Lack Any Firewall Protection

* The average infected user has 93 spyware/adware components on their computer, and the most components found on a single computer during the scan was 1,059.

* Majority of users (89%) who were infected with spyware/adware said they didn’t know the programs were on their computer.

* Nine in ten infected users (90%) said they don’t know what the programs are or do.

Those waters are shark infested…

There is no better way to state this; to venture onto the Internet without adequate spyware and adware protection these days effectively signs away your privacy to snoops you wouldn’t invite into your homes. But, these software eavesdroppers are able to harvest frightening amounts of personal data from your computers.

People must be vigilant, now more than ever before, to protect their systems from spyware/adware that effectively monitors their online activities and dutifully reports the desired information back to its developers. Information that can be and frequently is broadcast back to a spyware/adware developer’s site can include but is not necessarily limited to:

* Your computer’s address (IP – Internet Protocol)

* Your operating system (Windows XP, 2000, ME, Mac OS, Linux, etc.)

* Other information specific to your system (processor, memory, etc.)

* Type of Internet browser you utilize (Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Firefox, etc.)

* Site addresses (URL’s) for web pages you visit

Assume any intrusion to be a major security breach

The information above is used to develop an advertising profile and then serve annoying pop-ups on the “infected” systems. There is no better terminology to describe a system that has spyware lurking and operating within it. These intruders watch your buying habits, and if packed with a keystroke logger, a seemingly innocuous spyware/adware bundle can stealthily acquire:

* User names and passwords

* Instant message and chat logs

* Emails you’ve written

* Credit card information – Numbers, Expiration dates, Billing address, Shipping address

Some packages include the ability to take random screen shots as well and either beam the images back to the spyware’s architect periodically or patiently wait until you are connected to the Internet to do so. No matter when or how the information is transmitted from your system, these security breaches should not be taken lightly.

Obvious clues that your system is infected

Fortunately adware packages are not subtle once they have infected a system. If you install software that includes force-fed adware baggage, it won’t take long for you to notice you are being inundated with new pop-ups.

Spyware can be a little more subtle and harder to detect. One of the most obvious signs that your system has been recently infected with spyware is a sudden drop in Internet performance. Browser pages will take longer to load, or they may not load at all. Some spyware can cause the entire system to bog down or stop working entirely. Like viruses, some spyware can also disable your printer or cause your CD players to respond erratically.

Another obvious clue that your computer has been infected with a spyware package is an abrupt change of your preferred Internet browser’s home page. Spyware packages can reset your email signatures and display advertising content – even while you are offline!

Aggressive prevention

One of the best methods of protecting your system from spyware is to first become knowledgeable as to what type of software blatantly bundles spyware as part of their “freeware”. Peer-to-peer file sharing Kazaa is notorious for including a couple of adware packages.

“Spyware Nuker” sounds like it should be a good, safe program to load on your system, right? Wrong! It is known to be a false spyware remover. Some of the spyware packages are written to avoid detection, are difficult to uninstall, and frequently leave components installed in your system in order to continue to monitor your activities and then silently reinstall themselves.

The best spyware detection and removal software inoculates your computer to help prevent the various spyware packages from loading themselves into your operating system. The detection and removal software should be programmed to run automatically either late every evening, or at least once a week – depending on the amount of Internet usage and number and types of sites you visit. If your Internet voyages take you across sites that contain pornographic or hacker material, you better run the spyware detection software immediately following that visit. Assume you may be infected after you wander across the less-than-scrupulous sites.

Some of the best spyware detection and removal software is shareware. They include (in alphabetical order): Ad-aware, HijackThis, PestPatrol, Spybot – Search & Destroy, and SpySweeper. My best recommendation would be to download one of these products (my personal favorite is Spybot – Search & Destroy) from http://download.com and consider paying for the product you consider to be most suitable for your needs.

There are countless other commercial products, but I have found the shareware products to be more than adequate. If you prefer to pay for a commercial product, there are packages frequently bundled with your favorite anti-virus software (McAfee, Norton, etc.). Even firewall software developer Zone Labs has spyware detection and removal software included in their ZoneAlarm Security Suite.

It is an ugly, ongoing war out there, and spyware is probably the source for most service calls dispatched these days. Don’t allow either your privacy or your personal information to become a casualty in this ongoing battle. It is imperative that all of today’s systems – your system especially – be equipped with spyware detection and removal software. Make certain you take the necessary steps to keep your operating system, virus, and spyware software up-to-date.

Jared Prescott is a published author, product reviewer, and General Manager for AAA Tech Net, Inc. He has bountiful experience providing network and hardware solutions and can be contacted at info@aaatechnet.com.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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