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For your safety: understanding computer terms for illegal activity, spyware

Are you being spied upon?
Are you being spied upon?
Photo from pal2iyawit/freedigitalphotos.net

Too many Americans are victims of consumer fraud every year. And cyber-criminals have perfected countless ways to aid their high rate of success. One of them is a type of malware: spyware.

Spyware is appropriately named because, literally and figuratively, that is exactly what it does. It is computer software that secretly gathers personal (or organizational) information. In almost every case, it is installed your PC without your knowledge. On the Internet, it’s also known as “tracking software.”

While that may sound dramatic, impossible, or dramatically impossible, spyware is a very real threat. It tracks and seizes your private information like email messages, usernames, passwords, credit card information, plus web browsing habits and/or activity. Then it spreads this information over the Internet. Once it’s out there, there’s no way to retrieve or erase it.

Spyware gathers your private, personal information using two basic techniques: key logging and data capture. The former is a device that monitors each stroke made on a keyboard by a computer user. The latter is information collected in conjunction with other activities.

Typically, the information gathered by spyware is stored on the person’s computer using a mechanism known as a “cookie.” It’s used by websites to identify you whenever you visit.

How does spyware get on your computer? Like other kinds of malware, it unintentionally gets installed if you open an infected email attachment. It also attaches itself to your PC if you install a program with it on it. Another way is if it comes as a virus or with one. It can be on any download you execute.

A good way to keep spyware from infecting your computer is to use a security program that alerts you when any program is being installed. Although that isn’t a 100% cure, to find and eradicate spyware, you can pay a professional or do it yourself.

Thankfully, there are anti-spyware products available. Some of the “top 10” products of 2014 are (in order): McAfee, BullGuard, Webroot, TrendMicro, and Kapersky. They range in price from $19.97 to $49.99.

There are also free anti-spyware programs to download. Some remove it while others prevent it. Because they cost nothing, they rarely include both features.

Included in the top-rated ones are SAS (SuperAntiSpyware) and Malwarebytes. Both remove malware. Spywareblaster prevents it. However, Spybot is one of the few that does both.

Watch for more malware examples to come.