Taking a Closer Look at Spyware

Microsoft© defines spyware as a general term used to describe software that performs certain behaviors, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent first, such as:

  • Advertising
  • Collecting personal information
  • Changing the configuration of your computer

 Spyware is often associated with software that displays advertisements (called adware) or software that tracks personal or sensitive information.” (Microsoft©)

Spyware and related adware are often downloaded from a web page, by following a link in an email, or are installed with freeware or shareware without a user’s knowledge.

Spyware is used to track your Internet activity, redirect your browser to certain web sites, or monitor the sites that you visit. Spyware may also record your passwords and personal information to send to a malicious web site.

In an article on Venturebeat.com, one-time hacker Gary Pejski describes in detail how he and his team created spyware that could “change the home page of the computer, modify the search provider, initiate pop-up ads, and install new programs.” (Takahashi, 2007)

The spyware created by Pejski and his crew launched a pop-up screen advertising a browser enhancementThe key was to trick users into initiating the installation process for the spyware. “Users saw a page that looked like a pitch for free software. If they clicked on the “X” before they unchecked a question box, the software would install anyway. If they unchecked the question box, and then clicked on the X, the software would install. It was only if the user clicked on the left side of the box and unchecked the question box would it fail to install. Every time the pop-up appeared, it pretty much led to the installation of the software.” (Takahashi, 2007)

Be on the Look-out:

So how can you tell if spyware’s been installed on your computer?  According to ArticleWorld.net, “If you do have spyware on your PC you can usually recognize the signs without the “help” of a rogue anti-spyware program. For instance, too much spyware will bog down your system and cause your computer to run slowly. You will probably be overrun by an excess of pop-ups and fake alert messages. In addition, your homepage and list of favorites might suddenly change and reappear even after restoring the default. Other things to look out for:

  • A new browser toolbar emerges without your consent, which is impossible to remove
  • Every time you conduct an online search the results are redirected to an unfamiliar search engine
  • Unexplained calls to 900 numbers begin appearing on your phone bill
  • Any anti-spyware or security programs you do have installed stop working
  • Your modems send and receive lights blink continually even when you are not doing anything online (Mitrou, 2006)

 Avoid Being Seen:

Now that you know a little more about spyware and how it might affect your computer, here are some things you can do to prevent it from taking control of your machine in the first place:

  • “Read the freeware and shareware license agreement to see if adware or spyware is mentioned before installing the software.
  • Choose to “Close” any pop-up windows by clicking on the “X.”
  • Do not respond to any dialogue boxes that appear unexpectedly; click on “X”. Clicking on “No” or “Cancel” sometimes installs spyware.
  • Beware of visiting web pages which are untrusted.” (State of New Jersey)

 If you feel that spyware may have been installed on your computer, please contact the SJU Technology Service Center (TSC) at x2920  or by email at techhelp@sju.edu.

Remember: The TSC will NEVER ask you for your password or Social Security number.

Sources:

Microsoft. PC Security. Microsoft Safety and Security Center. [Online] http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/spyware-whatis.aspx

Mitrou, Katherina. 2006. How to Spot Spyware Without Your Glasses. ArticleWorld.net. [Online] April 1, 2006. http://www.articleworld.net/articles/6464/1/How-to-spot-Spyware-Without-your-Glasses.

State of New Jersey. New Jersey Info Secure Best Practices. State of New Jersey. [Online] http://www.state.nj.us/njinfosecure/practices/best_practices.html.

Takahashi, Dean. 2007. VB/NEWS. Venturebeat.com. [Online] August 1, 2007. http://venturebeat.com/2010/08/01/reformed-hacker-reveals-my-life-as-a-spyware-developer/