First new post of 2007

Todays post is all about spyware: what it is, and what the differences are between the various types.

Spyware(or mal-ware or bad-ware) is the generic name for any program, script or other software that is installed on your computer either unknowingly (you didnt know it was being installed, also called a “drive-by download”) or unintentionally (you installed a program and the program installed the spyware).

Spyware can be divided into smaller groups called ‘ad-ware,’ ‘spyware,’ ‘trojan horses,’ and ‘bots.’

  • Ad-ware is relatively harmless software that is intended to monitor your Web surfing and shopping habits in order for web advertising companies to create better and relevant advertising. But you still do not want it on your computer.
  • Spyware is much the same as ad-ware, but is used to monitor all activity on your computer, not just web surfing, but also to investigate what software you have, the presence of any illegally downloaded movies or music (the spyware used by the movie and record industries does not recognize music bought from legal online stores, as far as it is concerned any music is ‘illegal’), and can be used to steal password information for secure websites such as banks or credit cards. Spyware is also used for identity theft.
  • Trojan horses, or just ‘trojans,’ are like the trojan horse from Greek mythology (you may have seen it in the recent movie Troy). Its purpose is to sneak in past any defenses and then release a malicious program.
  • Bot is an abbreviation for ‘robot;’ software robots are designed to sneak in, or be delivered, install themselves and then wait for orders from the Internet. Bots are programmed to do any number of things including sending spam, attacking websites (which they do as one part of a network of bot-controlled computers, called a ‘bot-net’), or remotely controlling your computer. A bot-infected computer is called a “zombie,” because, once controlled, it obeys orders mindlessly.

These are the main groups of syware and what they do. These are just general grouping because different groups of spyware fighters and anti-spyware companies (and even the spyware makers) call each type something different.

More on spyware and how to know if you have it in a later post.