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Various studies, such as by Earthlink/Webroot and the AOL/National Cyber Security Alliance, have shown that up to 90 percent of Internet-connected computers have spyware installed.
These studies also showed that one in three PCs is infected with the malicious types of spyware, such as system monitors and Trojan horses.
This spyware is dangerous because it can compromise our efforts to guard privacy and online security by sending any information from our computers to a third party.
Spyware can be split into two broad categories...
1.
Surveillance or monitoring spyware...
the most dangerous type, 2.
Advertising spyware or adware...
less of a threat.
Let's now take a look at the different types of the surveillance or monitoring spyware, how we get infected, and what can happen as a result ...
Surveillance or Monitoring Spyware We are usually exposed to surveillance spyware when we connect to the Internet.
However, this is not the only place where we can be under its watchful eye.
More and more companies are installing spyware to watch employees at work to check that the company network is not being used for personal use, breaches of confidentiality and abuse, etc.
Within this surveillance spyware category, I have listed seven of the most common types that can monitor our computers.
Let's look at each in turn...
I.
Trojan Horses
Trojans are one of the sneakiest of all malware, often downloaded on the back of freeware, such as a game, software program or music.
Once the computer is infected, a remote user or cracker (malicious hacker) can access the PC and steal or destroy any personal, family or business information.
More sophisticated Trojans are programmed to act automatically and email their data haul to its controller.
II.
Browser or Home Page Hijackers
A browser hijacker is downloaded to our PCs from web sites we visit and targets any security vulnerabilities within our web browser.
The most common type is the home or start page hijacker, which resets the browser's home page to one that can generate the installer money, like ads and sales links.
We can also be redirected to a new page that downloads more malware to infect the computer.
A second type is the toolbar hijacker which operates from within the web browser, downloading and displaying ads and tracking our browsing.
Internet Explorer (IE) is susceptible to these hijackers because it is plagued by security vulnerabilities.
At least ensure your IE patches are up-to-date or change to an alternative free browser, such as Firefox or Opera.
III.
Browser Helper Object
A genuine browser helper object (BHO) is a program that acts as a plug-in to add a useful function to our browser, such as a password vault.
However, a spyware BHO can display ads and monitor which websites we visit.
This personal information is sent back to the originator, who can target the downloaded ads more specifically to our surfing habits.
IV.
Trojan Web Pages
A technique growing in use is the Trojan web page.
Even if we have successfully deleted spyware on our PC, every time the Trojan page is accessed, our PC becomes re-infected.
CoolWebSearch (CWS) is an example of this type of spyware.
Because of the unique techniques to hide itself from antispyware, CWS can be one of the most difficult spyware programs to remove from our computers.
V.
Dialers or Modem Hijacking
Dialers or modem hijackers can be secretly downloaded to PCs via a virus infection, mp3 download, or adult websites.
Their purpose is to connect infected computers to a premium rate number -- often for adult chat line services -- racking up a huge phone bill for us and a skim of the premium for the perpetrator.
VI.
Tracking Cookies
Simple cookies are issued by a web server and contain small amounts of data, such as site passwords and settings for future access.
Their purpose is to make navigation of the website easier.
However, some sites issue cookies that track user behavior across different websites, so providing marketers with private information on surfing habits, usernames and passwords, areas of interest, etc.
These user profiles can then be sold on to other marketing organizations or spammers.
VII.
System Monitors
System monitors can monitor all of our computer activity.
They may record some or all of the following...
keystrokes, e-mails, chat room conversations, instant messages, Websites visited, programs run, time spent, and even usernames and passwords.
The information can be gathered via remote access or sent by e-mail.
The most popular system monitor in use is the keylogger, which records every keystroke made on the infected PC.
The saved information is usually sent automatically by email to the perpetrator.
There are also hardware keyloggers or key catchers which plug into our PCs at the keyboard port, recording every keystroke made on our PCs.
Suspicious partners and bosses can resort to this type of surveillance software to check what you are doing on your computer...
so, it does pay to occasionally check your keyboard port for any physical devices that are unfamiliar.

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